How does a doctor tell the difference between scalp psoriasis and seborrheic dermatitis of the scalp?

Answer From Lawrence E. Gibson, M.D.

Your doctor can usually tell whether you have scalp psoriasis, seborrheic dermatitis or both based on an examination of your skin, scalp and nails.

Scalp psoriasis and seborrheic dermatitis are common conditions that affect the scalp. In addition, they share some similar signs and symptoms, such as red, scaly skin.

Most often, the scales of psoriasis are thicker and somewhat drier in appearance than are the scales of seborrheic dermatitis. Psoriasis has more of a tendency to extend beyond the hairline. In addition, psoriasis usually affects more than one area of the body. If you have scalp psoriasis, you may also have mild psoriasis on your elbows, knees, hands or feet or may notice subtle nail changes, such as pitting.

Compare signs and symptoms

Scalp psoriasis

  • Red skin covered with flakes and silvery scales
  • Patches that may extend beyond the hairline or appear on other parts of the body
  • Itching or soreness

Seborrheic dermatitis of the scalp

  • Red skin covered with greasy-looking white or yellowish scales
  • Skin flakes (dandruff) that may attach to the hair shaft
  • Possibly itching

Scalp psoriasis and seborrheic dermatitis of the scalp share some similar treatments, including medicated shampoos and topical corticosteroid or antifungal solutions. Scalp psoriasis is often persistent and more difficult to treat than is seborrheic dermatitis of the scalp. Additional treatments, such as phototherapy, may be required to bring psoriasis under better control.

Get the latest health information from Mayo Clinic’s experts.

Sign up for free, and stay up to date on research advancements, health tips and current health topics, like COVID-19, plus expertise on managing health.

To provide you with the most relevant and helpful information, and understand which information is beneficial, we may combine your email and website usage information with other information we have about you. If you are a Mayo Clinic patient, this could include protected health information. If we combine this information with your protected health information, we will treat all of that information as protected health information and will only use or disclose that information as set forth in our notice of privacy practices. You may opt-out of email communications at any time by clicking on the unsubscribe link in the e-mail.

Oct. 02, 2020 See more Expert Answers

See also

  1. 5 signs a psoriasis support group is right for you
  2. 6 ways to manage itchy skin when you have psoriasis
  3. Arthritis
  4. Arthritis pain: Do's and don'ts
  5. Botox injections: Can they relieve arthritis pain?
  6. Can arthritis pain medications be harmful?
  7. Can psoriasis make it hard to sleep?
  8. Chapped lips: What's the best remedy?
  9. Dry skin
  10. Ease stress to reduce your psoriasis flares
  11. Exercising with arthritis
  12. Ground flaxseed
  13. Gluten sensitivity and psoriasis: What's the connection?
  14. How to heal cracked heels
  15. How to heal cracked skin at thumb tip
  16. Is the Mediterranean diet good for psoriasis?
  17. Living better with psoriasis
  18. Psoriasis-related health risks
  19. Mayo Clinic Minute: Fingernails are clues to your health
  20. Mayo Clinic Minute: Moisturizer tips from a dermatologist
  21. Moisturizers: Options for softer skin
  22. MSM for arthritis pain: Is it safe?
  23. nail psoriasis
  24. Photodynamic therapy
  25. Prednisone risks, benefits
  26. Pregnancy and breast-feeding with psoriasis
  27. Psoriasis
  28. Psoriasis and clinical trials
  29. Psoriasis and intimacy
  30. Psoriasis and your self-esteem
  31. Psoriasis diet: Can changing your diet treat psoriasis?
  32. Identifying psoriasis triggers
  33. Psoriasis: Get the most out of your treatment
  34. Psoriasis: How can I protect my skin during a workout?
  35. Fish oil supplements
  36. Psoriasis treatment options
  37. Psoriasis: What if I get psoriatic arthritis, too?
  38. Psoriasis: What to share with your doctor
  39. Relaxation techniques
  40. Self-esteem check
  41. Skin biopsy
  42. Skin care tips
  43. Skip flavored lip balm
  44. How to trim thickened toenails
  45. Slide show: 5 ways to thrive with psoriasis through the holidays
  46. Slide show: Caring for your skin when you have psoriasis
  47. Hand exercises for people with arthritis
  48. Joint protection
  49. Types of psoriasis
  50. Common skin rashes
  51. Stress management
  52. Time your lotions right
  53. Ward off dry skin
  54. Water exercise
  55. Alternative psoriasis treatments
  56. What are the risks of vaccinations for people living with psoriasis?
  57. What's the best way to manage scalp psoriasis?
  58. White patch on skin: A cause for concern?
  59. Yucca: Can it relieve arthritis pain?