Seborrheic Eczema

Book an Appointment

Overview

Seborrheic dermatitis is a non-contagious skin condition. It leads to scaly patches of skin with oily, dandruff-like flakes, especially on your face and scalp. It is only rarely itchy. Experts believe that seborrheic dermatitis is made more likely by certain things. These include an increased production of sebum (an oily substance) in the skin, too much of a yeast (fungus) that lives on the skin, and a weakened immune system.

If someone first has seborrheic dermatitis as a teenager or adult, it almost always tends to come back again and again. Then it helps to apply antifungal medicines or steroid creams to the inflamed areas of skin.

The situation is very different in babies, though: If seborrheic dermatitis occurs during the first few months of a child's life, it usually goes away on its own within one year and also doesn't come back. This is commonly known as cradle cap.

Symptoms

Itchy white flakes of skin on your scalp (dandruff). When scratched, the flakes come loose, mix in with your hair, or fall onto your neck and shoulders.

Red scales on your skin.

Crusty yellow scales on infants’ heads (cradle cap). Cradle cap shouldn’t itch, but scratching may cause additional inflammation in the area and break the skin, leading to bleeding or mild infections.

Blepharitis (scaly redness on the edges of your eyelids).

Pinkish plaques (thick skin) of scales on both sides of your face.

Flaky patches on your chest and at your hairline that are shaped like a flower petal or a ring.

Redness in the folds and creases of your genitals, armpits and beneath your breasts.

Inflamed hair follicles on your cheeks and the upper half of your trunk.

Causes

Researchers aren’t sure of the exact cause of seborrheic dermatitis. They think there may be many causes. Factors that are thought to play a role include:

A type of yeast called Malassezia, which is present on everyone’s skin, but overgrow in some people.

An increased level of androgens (a hormone).

An increased level of skin lipids.

An inflammatory reaction.

Family history (dermatitis runs in the family).

Other factors that trigger or worsen seborrheic dermatitis include:

Stress.

Cold and dry climate.

Oily skin.

Using alcohol-based lotions.

History of other skin disorders, including rosacea, psoriasis and acne.

Risk factors

Doctors aren’t exactly sure why some people develop seborrheic dermatitis while others don’t. But it does appear that your risk of developing the condition increases if a close family member has it.

Other factors thought to increase risk include:

obesity

poor skin care

stress

environmental factors, like pollution

the presence of other skin issues, like acne

the use of certain skin care products, particularly those containing alcohol

certain medical conditions, like HIV or Parkinson’s disease

harsh detergents, soaps, and chemicals

cold, dry weather

medications including psoralen, interferon, and lithium

hormonal changes

Calendar Schedule

Have a medical question?

We are available to help you with all your questions and concerns.

Complications

Infants do not usually develop complications from cradle cap.6 Complications from seborrheic dermatitis in adults are uncommon, but possible.

In adults, especially those with more severe cases, a secondary bacterial or fungal infection may occur if seborrheic dermatitis is left untreated. This is because the skin tends to be open or damaged, which invites germs in.

These infections can cause increased redness, tenderness, and oozing or weeping of the patch and the surrounding skin.

Another potential complication of seborrheic dermatitis is related to the side effects of treatment. In adults, seborrheic dermatitis is often a chronic condition that requires on-and-off treatment to reduce inflammation and symptoms.

While low-dose topical corticosteroid therapy is an effective medication for treating seborrheic dermatitis, long-term use can cause side effects like thinning of the skin and dilated blood vessels, or telangiectasias.

This is why healthcare providers generally prefer milder agents to start, such as antifungal creams or medicated shampoos.

The psychological impact of seborrheic dermatitis can also be profound in some people. Adolescents and adults, in particular, may feel distress or embarrassment about the appearance of their skin, leading to low self-esteem.

Prevention

There’s little that can be done to prevent seborrheic dermatitis. Cradle cap is a natural, harmless condition. It can be simply treated at home. If you are a teenager or an adult with seborrheic dermatitis, you might be more prone if you have higher than normal levels of androgens, a higher level of lipids in your skin or have an overgrowth of the yeast that is always present on your skin’s surface.

Some simple healthy things you can do to reduce your risk include getting plenty of rest, controlling your emotional stress and getting a daily small doses (minutes) of sunshine (UV light). Stay away from the midday sun.

Always follow your healthcare provider’s instructions for using medicated shampoos and skin products. Under treatment or inappropriate treatment can result in flare-ups of your condition and return visits to your healthcare provider.