Seborrhea

That red, itchy rash on your scalp that has flaky scales could be seborrheic dermatitis, or seborrhea. It's a common skin disease that looks similar to psoriasis, eczema, or an allergic reaction. And it can appear on your body as well as your scalp.

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Dr. Anirban Deep Banerjee


  • Stress
  • Your genes
  • A yeast that normally lives on skin
  • Certain medical conditions and medicines
  • Cold, dry weather

It doesn't come from an allergy or being unclean.

Newborns and adults aged 30-60 are more likely to get seborrheic dermatitis. It's more common in men than women and in people with oily skin. These medical conditions can also raise your risk:

  • Acne
  • AIDS
  • Alcoholism
  • Depression
  • Eating disorders
  • Epilepsy
  • Heart attack or stroke recovery
  • Parkinson's disease
  • Psoriasis
  • Rosacea

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.


Dandruff and cradle cap are common names for seborrheic dermatitis. Babies 3 months and younger often get cradle cap: crusty yellow or brown scales on their scalp. It usually goes away before they're a year old, although it can come back when they reach puberty.

You might get seborrheic dermatitis on your face, especially around your nose, in your eyebrows, on your eyelids or behind your ears. It can show up on your body, too:

  • In the middle part of the chest
  • Around the navel
  • On buttocks
  • In skin folds under arms and on legs
  • In the groin
  • Below breasts

On babies, seborrheic dermatitis might be mistaken for diaper rash.

Skin can itch, burn, or look red. The scales that flake off could be white or yellowish and look moist or oily.

Because it can look like other skin conditions, you should see your doctor to get a diagnosis and the right treatment. The dermatologist will ask about your medical history and look at your skin. You may need other tests if the doctor thinks it's related to another medical condition.


Your doctor will likely be able to determine whether you have seborrheic dermatitis by examining your skin. He or she may scrape off skin cells for examination (biopsy) to rule out conditions with symptoms similar to seborrheic dermatitis, including: Psoriasis.


Sometimes, seborrheic dermatitis will clear up by itself. More often, it's a lifelong issue that clears and flares. It can last for years at a time, but you can usually control it with good skin care.


Although treatment cannot cure seborrheic dermatitis, treatment has benefits. Treatment can loosen and remove scale, prevent a skin infection, and reduce swelling and itch. The type of treatment a dermatologist prescribes varies with age and where the seborrheic dermatitis appears on the skin.

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