Overview

Seborrheic (seb-o-REE-ik) dermatitis is a common skin condition that mainly affects your scalp. It causes scaly patches, red skin and stubborn dandruff. Seborrheic dermatitis can also affect oily areas of the body, such as the face, sides of the nose, eyebrows, ears, eyelids and chest.

Seborrheic dermatitis may go away without treatment. Or you may need many repeated treatments before the symptoms go away. And they may return later. Daily cleansing with a gentle soap and shampoo can help reduce oiliness and dead skin buildup.

Seborrheic dermatitis is also called dandruff, seborrheic eczema and seborrheic psoriasis. For infants, the condition is known as cradle cap and causes crusty, scaly patches on the scalp.

Symptoms

Seborrheic dermatitis signs and symptoms may include:

  • Skin flakes (dandruff) on your scalp, hair, eyebrows, beard or mustache
  • Patches of greasy skin covered with flaky white or yellow scales or crust on the scalp, face, sides of the nose, eyebrows, ears, eyelids, chest, armpits, groin area or under the breasts
  • Red skin
  • Itching

The signs and symptoms may be more severe if you're stressed, and they tend to flare in cold, dry seasons.

When to see a doctor

See your doctor if:

  • You're so uncomfortable that you're losing sleep or being distracted from your daily routines
  • Your condition is causing embarrassment and anxiety
  • You suspect your skin is infected
  • You've tried self-care steps without success

Causes

Doctors don't yet know the exact cause of seborrheic dermatitis. It may be related to:

  • A yeast (fungus) called malassezia that is in the oil secretion on the skin
  • An irregular response of the immune system

Risk factors

A number of factors increase your risk of developing seborrheic dermatitis, including:

  • Neurologic and psychiatric conditions, such as Parkinson's disease and depression
  • A weakened immune system, such as seen in organ transplant recipients and people with HIV/AIDS, alcoholic pancreatitis and some cancers
  • Recovery from stressful medical conditions, such as a heart attack
  • Some medications