Seborrheic Dermatitis

What is seborrheic dermatitis?

Seborrheic dermatitis is a common condition that causes the skin to look oily, scaly and flaky. This usually affects the scalp. It is most common in adolescents and adults. Seborrheic dermatitis is usually called "dandruff". In babies, known as "cradle cap". Seborrheic dermatitis can also affect skin on other parts of the body, including face and chest, and folds of the arms, legs and groin. 

How common is seborrheic dermatitis?

Seborrheic dermatitis is common in infants under 3 months and in adults between 30 and 60. In adults, it is more likely to affect men than women.

What is the cause of seborrheic dermatitis?

Doctors do not know what the exact cause of seborrheic dermatitis. It is possible that the cause is different for infants and adults. Seborrheic dermatitis can be passed from parent to child. The condition appears to be related to hormones, because the disorder is often in infancy and disappears before puberty. The cause could also be a fungus, called Malassezia. Typically, this organism is present on the skin in small amounts, but sometimes the amount increases, and this causes problems in the skin.

Seborrheic dermatitis has also been associated with neurological disorders such as Parkinson's disease and epilepsy. 

How is seborrheic dermatitis treated?

Treatment of seborrheic dermatitis depends on its location in the body. Treatment also depends on your age.

Seborrheic dermatitis of the scalp (dandruff) in adults and adolescents. Dandruff is usually with a shampoo that contains salicylic acid (some brand names: Scalpicin, X-Seb), selenium sulfide (brand names: Exsel, Selsun Blue ) or zinc pyrithione (some brand names: DHS Zinc, Head & Shoulders). These shampoos can be used 2 times a week. Shampoos containing coal tar (some brand names: DHS Tar, Neutrogena T / Gel, Polytar) can be used up to 3 times a week. If you have dandruff, you could start using one of these shampoos daily until your dandruff is controlled, then use 2 or 3 times a week.

When you use a dandruff shampoo, rub the shampoo well into hair and leave it in the hair and scalp for at least 5 minutes before rinsing. This will allow time to act.

If the shampoo alone does not help, your doctor may want you to use a lotion with prescription corticosteroids once or twice daily in addition to the shampoo.

Seborrheic dermatitis of the folds of skin in adolescents and adults. Corticosteroid lotions can be used in adolescents and adults.

Seborrheic dermatitis of the scalp (cradle cap) in babies. Seborrheic dermatitis of the scalp in babies is treated with products that are not as strong as those used in adults. You can start with a mild baby shampoo counter. Brushing your baby's scalp with a soft brush like a toothbrush, can help loosen the scales. But be gentle when massaging or brushing your baby's scalp, if the skin is injured, becomes vulnerable to infection. If a counter shampoo does not work, talk to your doctor about switching to a shampoo that contains tar. Your doctor also may recommend a prescription shampoo containing 2% ketoconazole (brand name: Nizoral).

Seborrheic dermatitis of the folds of the skin in infants. Lotions or creams can be used with corticosteroids to treat seborrheic dermatitis of the folds of the skin of babies.


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