Usually beginning on the scalp as oily, waxy patches, this common type of eczema sometimes spreads to the face and beyond. A severe case, while rare, produces widespread lesions. Like most types of eczema, seborrheic dermatitis tends to flare in cold, dry weather.
Signs and symptoms can vary from day to day and include:
While the exact cause is not known, researchers believe that a number of factors interact to cause seborrheic dermatitis. These factors include the genes we inherit, yeast that normally live on human skin, stress, climate, and overall general health.
The following tend to increase the likelihood of developing seborrheic dermatitis:
Infants. The condition usually clears on its own over a period of weeks or months but may return at puberty.
Adults. Seborrheic dermatitis is often chronic, flaring periodically and without warning.
These are usually all that is needed to diagnose seborrheic dermatitis. It is best to see a dermatologist because seborrheic dermatitis can resemble many other skin conditions, including atopic dermatitis, psoriasis, and rosacea. In infants, seborrheic dermatitis may develop only in the diaper area and be mistaken for diaper rash. Effective treatment requires an accurate diagnosis.
This may be necessary to eliminate the possibility of another medical condition.
While seborrheic dermatitis cannot be cured, most cases respond quickly to proper treatment. The goals of treatment are to loosen and remove scales and crusts, prevent skin infections, as well as reduce the inflammation and itch.
Treatment varies by age and area of the body to be treated:
Cradle cap, which only develops in infants, can usually be controlled by shampooing more frequently with a baby shampoo and by softly brushing away the scales. A dermatologist also may prescribe a mild corticosteroid or anti-fungal medication.
When the condition spreads beyond the scalp in infants, dermatologists usually prescribe a topical medication, such as a mild corticosteroid or anti-fungal cream.
Patients with seborrheic dermatitis may find that shampooing more frequently than usual and leaving the lather on the scalp for a longer time clears the condition. Shampoos specially formulated for dandruff relief are often effective. Sometimes getting results requires alternating dandruff shampoos so that a different shampoo is used every few days. A dermatologist can explain this process and recommend which shampoos a patient should use and when. To effectively treat the scalp, a dermatologist also may prescribe a topical corticosteroid or antifungal medication.
Medicated dandruff shampoos often provide relief beyond the scalp. A dermatologist can explain how to use shampoo to treat other affected areas. A topical corticosteroid or antifungal medication also may be prescribed. A severe case may require the addition of an oral antifungal medication or phototherapy.