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Seborrhoeic dermatitis

Find out more about what Seborrhoeic Dermatitis is, how it is treated and how to prevent it. 

What is Seborrheic Dermatitis?

Seborrhoeic Dermatitis is a common skin condition that causes scaly patches, red skin and stubborn dandruff, usually on the scalp. Seborrheic dermatitis can also affect oily areas of the body, such as the face, sides of the nose, eyebrows, ears, eyelids and chest. 

What are the symptoms of Seborrhoeic dermatitis?

Seborrhoeic dermatitis signs and symptoms may include: 

  • Skin flakes (dandruff) on your scalp or surrounding facial areas. 
  • 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 

What causes Seborrhoeic Dermatitis?

Doctors have not yet determined the exact cause of Seborrhoeic Dermatitis. However, 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 

How is Seborrhoeic Dermatitis diagnosed?

Your doctor will likely be able to determine whether you have Seborrhoeic Dermatitis by performing skin examinations. They may scrape off skin cells for examination (biopsy) to rule out conditions with symptoms similar to Seborrhoeic Dermatitis, including: Psoriasis. 


How is Seborrhoeic Dermatitis treated?

Scalp Treatment 

Cradle Cap (infants) 

  • Cradle cap usually clears up without treatment when the child is between eight and 12 months old. It may be treated daily with a mild baby shampoo. 
  • If the problem continues, or the baby seems uncomfortable and scratches the scalp, contact your paediatrician or dermatologist. He or she may prescribe a prescription shampoo or lotion. 
  • Other areas of affected skin can be treated with a gentle steroid lotion. 

Adolescents and adults: 

For mild cases, over-the-counter dandruff shampoos that contain selenium, zinc pyrithione or coal tar will help. Shampoo with it twice a week or as directed on the label of the product. For long-term control, your healthcare provider may prescribe antifungal. These shampoos are used from daily to two or three times a week for several weeks until the dandruff has cleared, then once every week to two weeks to prevent flare-ups.  

For moderate to severe cases, your healthcare provider may prescribe a stronger shampoo, however you must ensure to ask your healthcare provider about any side effects that may be harmful to you. 

Face and Body 

Treatments for Seborrhoeic Dermatitis of the face and body include topical antifungals, corticosteroids and calcineurin inhibitors. 

Topical antifungals are available in creams, foams or gels, are usually applied to the affected areas twice daily for up to eight weeks and then as needed.  

Topical corticosteroids products come in creams, lotions, foams, gels, ointments, oil or solution. They are taken once or twice a day. Your healthcare provider might prescribe these products if antifungal products aren’t successful in clearing your seborrhoeic dermatitis or for treating flare-ups. If your case is severe, your healthcare provider may prescribe an oral (pill) antifungal agent or phototherapy (a specific wavelength of ultraviolet light to decrease inflammation in the skin). 

This content has been checked and approved by

Professor Jonathan White  ›

Professor Jonathan White is a consultant dermatologist at King Edward VII’s Hospital.

Find your specialist in contact dermatitis at King Edward VII's Hospital

If you suspect you have contact dermatitis and you’re seeking an expert opinion, you can find the UK’s leading dermatology specialists here at King Edward VII’s Hospital. Our consultants are hand-picked for you, making it easy to access the best possible care.

Professor Jonathan White  ›
Special interests include:
Skin allergies (+ 5) more

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