Causes, Signs, and Symptoms of Seborrheic Dermatitis

Seborrheic Dermatitis

In this article, I will discuss another common ailment that affects people all over the world. The condition, called seborrheic dermatitis or seborrhea, is a common chronic skin disorder in which red scaly patches develop on the skin that are shed off. One of the milder forms of the disease is dandruff, in which there is excessive production of skin cells and the scalp sheds off flakes. In its advanced form, the scales of seborrheic dermatitis become very irritable and start erupting. The disease can affect all parts of the body including the scalp, eye-brows, face, ears, chest, and even the back. Another form of the condition is called cradle cap, in which infants and young children get the condition on the scalp and the diaper area.

Seborrheic dermatitis is known to affect about 12% of the population, making it a common condition. It peaks in adults in the age-group of 30-60 years. In younger populations, the condition is seen as dandruff. Men are more likely to be affected by the disease than women. Studies show that the disease occurs commonly during the first three months, during puberty as dandruff and then between 40 to 60 years of age as rashes and scaling.

The disease affects men more than women, and often relapses. Since it is cured by sunlight, it has a seasonal pattern and is more commonly seen in winters.

Seborrheic dermatitis resembles psoriasis, and the symptoms look quite similar. While Psoriasis produces papules of scaling red skin, seborrheic dermatitis is characterised by oozing. Sometimes the doctor will have a biopsy conducted to determine the condition.


Seborrheic dermatitis is characterised by skin rashes and red scaling which can ooze liquid. It is accompanied by significant dandruff. The rash is distributed widely on the body including the scalp, outer ears and the auditory canal, and on face parts like forehead, eyebrows, eyelids, cheeks and nose. It may also be seen on the chest and back. It also occurs in babies as “cradle cap,” or a scalp eruption, and can be seen on the diaper area. Sometimes there may be no symptoms, but simply scalp itching.

The disease begins in young people with mild greasy scaling on the scalp. In adults, the skin appears greasy and the condition is seen as uneven scaling and lesion on scalp, eyebrows and face, which are affected the most. It causes severe itching and flaking of skin and is most uncomfortable and bothersome for patients as the flakes are clearly visible on the affected parts.


Seborrheic dermatitis occurs in areas where sebum is produced heavily. It is also seen in patients with excess of a normal skin yeast. From these two conditions we can conclude that seborrheic dermatitis is caused by oily skin and fungal infestations. Further, it is found in patients with nervous system diseases such as dementia and brain injuries. Seborrheic dermatitis is not contagious but it looks extremely bad.

Why it happens is not fully understood. The most common cause of seborrheic dermatitis is inflammation. It is speculated that a fungus called Malassezia, which normally exists on the human skin, may be responsible. Other causes that may lead to the disease are poor immunity, stress, existence of other diseases, or a side effect of certain psychotropic medicines. Hormonal imbalance can also trigger the disease, as well as nutritional deficiencies.


Very often the disease clears up on its own, but is known to relapse. That is why it must be treated. Treatment consists of implementing a skin care routine that removes excess sebum and reduces skin inflammation and itching. Medicines may be prescribed for treating fungal infection and to reduce the scaling of skin. The condition can usually be treated by medicated shampoos and easily available medicines. For stubborn symptoms creams may be prescribed containing weak steroids. If it is still not controlled, the doctor may prescribe stronger steroids.

Antifungal medications are effective if the infection is caused by Malassezia. Antifungal shampoos and lotions are available for using on the scalp and other parts of the body. Where the cause is not fungal infection, topical creams or lotions containing Corticosteroids are used to reduce skin inflammation. Anti-inflammatory medications are also available. Shampoos containing coal tar, salicylic acid and zinc pyrithione can be used to treat the scalp.

Another line if treatment is light therapy. Since seborrheic dermatitis can be controlled by UV light, patients are advised to sit in sunlight for some time, or undertake UV light therapy. For people who want to use herbal preparations, remedies containing Tea tree oil is quite effective. Many shampoos and oils containing tea tree oil are available in the market.


It is advisable to seek medical help as the disease is known to relapse. Diagnosis is done by visual examination, going over the medical history of the patient, and by analysis of the skin scales in the laboratory. This is important as the symptoms can easily be mistaken for psoriasis or contact dermatitis. The doctor must closely check the skin for lesions, their colour and location. Sometimes diagnosis cannot be made on the basis of skin examination alone, which necessitates laboratory tests.


Seborrheic dermatitis affects the most visible parts of the body. It is not a serious condition and cures of its own, but affects the psychological condition of the patient. It can be easily treated by medicated creams, shampoos and lotions. Relapse can also be prevented through use of antifungal shampoos and creams with mild steroids. If you are prone to this condition, follow a healthy skin hygiene and care routine. The skin must be regularly moisturized. Patients must have a nutrient rich diet. The important part of treatment is to manage the severe mental stress that patients go through because of their flaky appearance so the doctor must work as a counsellor as well.

About Atul Vashishta

With a long experience in the industry and a profound knowledge of human skin and hair biology, my beauty and hair science offers turn-key solutions to increase hair care and skin care effectiveness. Known as the founder of Kabera Global, the best hair treatment, and skin care clinics in India, I am always happy to provide flexible guidance for a professional skin and hair care routine by my blogs.

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