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What is seborrheic dermatitis?
Seborrheic dermatitis is a common condition that makes the skin look greasy, scaly and flaky. It usually affects the scalp. In adolescents and adults, seborrheic dermatitis is commonly called “dandruff.” In babies, it is known as “cradle cap.”
Seborrheic dermatitis can also affect the skin on other parts of the body, such as the face and chest, and the creases of the arms, legs and groin.
How common is seborrheic dermatitis?
Seborrheic dermatitis is common in babies younger than 3 months of age and in adolescents and adults. In adults, it’s more likely to affect men than women.
CAUSES & RISK FACTORS
What causes seborrheic dermatitis?
Healthcare providers don’t know the exact cause of seborrheic dermatitis. The cause may be different in infants and adults.
Seborrheic dermatitis may run in families. The condition seems to be related to hormones, because the disorder often appears in infancy and disappears before puberty. Or the cause might be a fungus, called malassezia. This organism is normally present on the skin in small numbers, but sometimes its numbers increase, resulting in skin problems.
Seborrheic dermatitis has also been linked to neurologic disorders such as Parkinson’s disease and epilepsy. The reason for this relationship isn’t known.
How is seborrheic dermatitis treated?
The treatment of seborrheic dermatitis depends on its location on the body. Treatment also depends on your age.
Seborrheic dermatitis of the scalp (dandruff) in adults and adolescents.
Dandruff is usually treated with a shampoo that contains salicylic acid (some brand names: Sterex, Sebcur), selenium sulfide (brand names: Selsun Blue, Versel) or zinc pyrithione (some brand names: Head & Shoulders, Dangard). These shampoos can be used 2 times a week. Shampoos that contain coal tar (some brand names: Neutrogena T/Gel, Denorex) may be used 3 times a week. If you have dandruff, you might start by using one of these shampoos daily until your dandruff is controlled, and then use it 2 or 3 times a week.
When you use a dandruff shampoo, rub the shampoo into your hair thoroughly and let it stay on your hair and scalp for at least 5 minutes before rinsing. This will give it time to work.
If the shampoo alone doesn’t help, your healthcare provider might want you to use a prescription steroid lotion once or twice daily.
Seborrheic dermatitis of the skin creases in adolescents and adults.
Steroid lotions may be used in adolescents and adults.
Seborrheic dermatitis of the scalp (cradle cap) in babies.
Seborrheic dermatitis of the scalp in babies is will go away on its own without treatment. You can wash the hair with a mild, non‑medicated baby shampoo. Then gently brush out the scales. Using mineral oil or baby oil can help soften the scales. Rub a small amount on the scales then shampoo and brush.
Brushing your baby’s scalp with a soft brush, like a toothbrush, can help loosen scales or flakes. But be gentle when massaging or brushing your baby’s scalp–a break in the skin makes it vulnerable to infection. If a non‑medicated shampoo doesn’t work, contact your healthcare provider. This condition usually get better by 4 months of age.
Seborrheic dermatitis of the skin creases in babies.
Gentle steroid lotions or creams may be used to treat seborrheic dermatitis in the skin creases of babies. Be sure to talk to your healthcare provider about the correct strength of steroid to use.
QUESTIONS TO ASK YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER
- What is causing my dandruff?
- Should I use a special shampoo?
- What can I do for my baby’s cradle cap?
- Should I use a special shampoo for my baby?
- Will my baby outgrow cradle cap?
- Will I always have dandruff?
- Could my seborrheic dermatitis mean I have another disease?