Seborrheic dermatitis [seb-uh-RAY-ik der-muh-TAHY-tis] is a skin condition that causes red, scaly patches. Cradle cap in babies and dandruff in adults are both types of this condition.
Seborrheic dermatitis can cause:
- Cradle cap in babies. This is a common condition in babies that causes thick, scaly patches on the scalp. It does not harm the baby and it does not spread to other people who touch it. Cradle cap usually goes away on its own between 6 months and 1 year of age.
- Recurring scaly patches in adults and adolescents. When adults or adolescents get seborrheic dermatitis, it may come and go throughout their life. It may flare up in times of stress or when the weather gets cold and dry. Dandruff is a mild form of seborrheic dermatitis. Seborrheic dermatitis happens in places where the skin has the most oil glands, such as the:
- Ear canal
- Skin beneath the eyebrows
- Nose and mouth
- Upper chest and upper back
In babies, the main symptom of seborrheic dermatitis is thick, scaly skin on the scalp.
In adults and adolescents, symptoms of seborrheic dermatitis include:
- Scaly, red patches of skin that may look greasy or oily and may itch or burn
- Flakes or scales on the head or in the hair (dandruff)
Symptoms can be worse in times of stress or when the weather is cold and dry.
See a healthcare provider if you think you might have seborrheic dermatitis or another skin condition. Each skin condition is treated differently. It’s important to have a healthcare provider identify the cause of your symptoms and recommend the right treatment.
If initial treatments do not relieve your symptoms, your healthcare provider may refer you to a doctor who specializes in diseases of the skin (a dermatologist).
The exact cause of seborrheic dermatitis is not known. Many factors probably work together to cause it. Research does show that:
- It is not an allergy.
- It is not caused by poor hygiene.
- It is not harmful to the rest of the body.
It is most common in:
Your healthcare provider can usually tell if you have seborrheic dermatitis by looking closely at your skin and asking questions. There is no test for it.
If rare cases, your healthcare provider may want to take a small sample of skin to be examined under a microscope. This is called a skin biopsy.
Cradle cap usually goes away on its own within a few months. Before that time, treatment includes:
- Applying a small amount of baby oil to loosen the scaly patches
- Washing the baby’s head with baby shampoo every day
- Gently brushing away scales with a soft toothbrush or comb
In adults and adolescents, treatment cannot cure seborrheic dermatitis, but it can remove scales, reduce itching, and prevent infection. Treatments can include:
- Washing the hair with dandruff shampoo. Follow the instructions on the bottle. You usually need to leave it on for five to ten minutes.
- Applying an over-the-counter hydrocortisone cream to the affected areas.
If initial treatments do not relieve your symptoms, your healthcare provider may recommend medicated creams or refer you to a doctor who specializes in diseases of the skin (a dermatologist).
Seborrheic dermatitis cannot be prevented. It can only be treated.