Seborrheic Dermatitis

What is Seborrheic Dermatitis?

Seborrheic dermatitis is a type of skin inflammatory disease that causes flaky, scaly, itchy, and reddish skin.

This condition typically affects skin areas which are rich in sebaceous or oil glands, such as the face, scalp, and torso [1]. Additionally, this skin condition is chronic and has a tendency to relapse [2].

Seborrheic Dermatitis Causes

The exact cause of seborrheic dermatitis is still not determined. However, there have been some factors which are associated to the occurrence of the disease. It includes:

Fungal (Yeast) Cause

1. Presence of yeast species on the skin

Yeast species called Malassezia, is linked to the development of seborrheic dermatitis. This group of yeast secretes toxic substances which causes skin irritation and inflammation. Normally, the presence of this yeast is not harmful to the body. However, most patients with this condition are known to have less resistance to yeast.

2. Fungal growth in lipid-abundant areas

The fungi involved in seborrheic dermatitis grow in an environment which is rich in lipid. This is why the common areas involved in this condition are the scalp, eyebrows, nasolabial folds, ears, and chest. [1, 2]

Immune System- Related Cause


  • Inflammatory/Immune reaction

Increase in immunoglobulin A (IgA)

  • Elevated NK1 and CD16+ cell counts
  • T-cell function depression

Neuropsychiatric Cause

1. Neurologic disorders

  • Stroke
  • Essential tremors
  • Trigeminal nerve dyskinesia
  • Tardive dyskinesia
  • Spinal injuries

2. Psychiatric disorders

  • Alzheimer’s disease
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • Schizophrenia
  • Mood disorders

Nutritional Cause

1. Vitamin deficiencies in:

  • Vitamin B6 (Pyridoxine)
  • Biotin
  • Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin)

2. Vitamin excess

  • Excessive vitamin A

Hormonal Cause

  • Increased androgen in puberty
  • Presence of maternal androgens in infants

Other factors

  • Season change
  • Illness and reduced general health
  • Stress: Psychological stress, sleep deprivation, fatigue [1, 2, 3]

Seborrheic Dermatitis Symptoms

The usual body areas which are affected by seborrheic dermatitis are those which produce the most amount of sebum (oil). So, this condition involves skin areas such as the face (eyebrow area, nose, and forehead) and the scalp. Other possible affected areas include armpits, chest, underneath the breasts, ears, and groins.


  • Patches of flaky skin: May appear grayish, yellowish, or whitish in color
  • Dandruff or scaling
  • Itchiness and soreness
  • Red greasy skin


  • Red, scaly patches
  • Greasy skin
  • Yellow-brown colored crusts may appear over the patches.
  • Itchy and slightly raised rash
  • Inflammation of areas such as eyelids or outer ear canal


  • Reddish or yellowish scaly pimples which are located on the eyebrows, nose, hairline, ears, upper back, and chest
  • Severe Seborrheic Dermatitis is unusual.
  • People who develop severe cases of this condition are those with compromised immune system. [1, 4, 5]

Seborrheic Dermatitis Pictures

Picture 1: Areas commonly affected by Seborrheic Dermatitis

Picture 2: Seborrheic Dermatitis on Forehead

Picture 3: Seborrheic Dermatitis on sides of the nose

Picture 4: Seborrheic Dermatitis on scalp

Picture 5: Seborrheic Dermatitis on the outer ear canal

Picture 6: Seborrheic Dermatitis on the chest and underarms

Picture 7: Form of Seborrheic Dermatitis in Infants (Cradle Cap)

Picture 8: Scaly skin caused by Seborrheic Dermatitis

Seborrheic Dermatitis Natural Treatment

Natural Substances

Some natural substances may be beneficial in providing relief from seborrheic dermatitis. These include:

  • Avocado Extracts
  • Aloe Vera
  • Oregano oil
  • Tea tree oil
  • Fish oil supplements
  • Honey

Hygiene and Clothing

  • Refrain from using harsh detergents and soaps.
  • Use anti-dandruff shampoo following the recommended schedule.
  • For babies, use mild shampoo and soft-bristled brush to loosen scales.
  • Shave mustache or beard to prevent the condition for worsening.
  • Low buzz haircut
  • Avoid scratching to prevent irritation.
  • Wear clothes which are smooth and cotton. This is important to promote ventilation of the skin and prevent irritation.


  • Antifungal diet: Made up of increased vegetable intake and decreased sugar consumption. [1,5]

Seborrheic Dermatitis Treatment

Antifungal agents (Medical treatment)

These work by decreasing the numbers of Malassezia yeast that are present on the affected body areas. Some of the most commonly prescribed antifungals are:

1. Ketoconazole

  • Comes in foams, gels, creams, and shampoos
  • Prescription Ketoconazole (2% strength), Over-the-counter Ketoconazole (1% strength)

2. Terbinafine (Lamisil)

  • Usually recommended in the form of tablets
  • Indicated to provide treatment of severe cases
  • This is prescribed with caution due to the serious side effects that it may cause, such as liver problems and allergic reactions.

3. Ciclopirox

  • A common content of skin products and shampoos
  • Side effects in some people include itching, irritation, and burning


These are given to lessen discomfort, itching, and inflammation. Usually, they are advised to be taken in a short period of time to prevent serious side effects such as excessive hair growth, skin damage, infection, hormone suppression, and blood sugar elevation.

1. Hydrocortisone

  • Applied on areas such as scalp
  • Usual recommended form is 1% strength cream. Though it also comes in higher strength creams.

2. Betamethasone

  • Prescribed as lotion or cream
  • Used on scalp and other body parts
  • Use is limited to few weeks at a time

3. Desonide

  • Also, it is prescribed as ointment or gel for topical application.


  • Cetirizine
  • Loratidine
  • Diphenhydramine
  • Chlorphreniramine

Calcineurin Inhibitors

  • This medication acts by inhibiting the immune system activities.
  • Known to be effective corticosteroid and antifungal lotion and cream.
  • Used only if all other treatment has not been effective.
  • Some examples include: Pimecrolimus (Elidel) and Tacrolimus (Protopic)

Medicated Shampoo

A medicated shampoo is prescribed for treatment of Seborrheic Dermatitis. This kind of shampoo can be utilized twice a week. For those with dandruff, the shampoo should be rubbed on the hair thoroughly at least 2-3 times per week. When using it, let it stay for about 5 minutes. Then, rinse it thoroughly to remove dandruff. The active ingredients present in this shampoo include:

  • Salicylic acid
  • Selenium sulphide
  • Zinc pyrithione
  • Coal tar


A procedure called Photodynamic Therapy is used to lessen the Malassezia fungus growth and skin inflammation.
Phototherapy recommended by dermatologists utilizes UV-A and UV-B laser as well as blue and red LED lights. [1, 5, 6, 7]



Published on by under Skin and Hair.
Article was last reviewed on September 11th, 2016.

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