Seborrheic dermatitis is a common skin condition that affects the scalp and oily areas of the body. It’s characterized by redness, scales, and sometimes mild itching. It’s often linked to the overgrowth of Malassezia yeast and an abnormal immune response to this fungus. Non-clinical factors include genetic predisposition, stress, weather changes, and certain neurological conditions. Other conditions like depression, eating disorders, and alcoholism can increase the risk. The condition is chronic and while there’s no cure, symptoms can be managed with appropriate treatment such as medicated shampoos, creams, or lotions. Consultation with a healthcare professional or dermatologist is recommended for proper diagnosis and treatment.


Seborrheic dermatitis is a common skin condition that mainly affects the scalp, but can also occur in oily areas of the body, such as the face, upper chest, and back. It’s characterized by redness, scaly patches, dandruff, and sometimes mild itching.

Clinical Causes

  1. Malassezia Fungi: Seborrheic dermatitis is believed to be related to overgrowth of a yeast fungus known as Malassezia, which is normally present on the skin’s surface. When the balance of the skin’s natural flora is disrupted, this fungus can proliferate and lead to symptoms.
  2. Immune Response: Some people may develop seborrheic dermatitis because they have an abnormal or inflammatory immune response to these fungi.

Non-Clinical Factors

  1. Genetic Factors: There may be a genetic predisposition in some people, making them more susceptible to developing seborrheic dermatitis.
  2. Stress and Fatigue: These can worsen the symptoms of seborrheic dermatitis, although the exact mechanism isn’t fully understood.
  3. Weather: Symptoms may flare up in dry, cold seasons and improve in warmer, humid seasons.
  4. Neurological Conditions: Conditions like Parkinson’s disease and HIV are associated with a higher risk of seborrheic dermatitis. It’s not entirely clear why, but it might be related to the body’s immune response.
  5. Other Medical Conditions: People with certain conditions like depression, eating disorders, alcoholism, acne, rosacea, and psoriasis might be at higher risk.

It’s important to note that while these factors can contribute to the development of seborrheic dermatitis, they do not necessarily cause the condition. Seborrheic dermatitis is a chronic condition, meaning it can be managed and symptoms can be reduced, but there’s usually no cure.

If you suspect you have seborrheic dermatitis, it’s always best to consult with a healthcare professional or dermatologist. 



Seborrheic dermatitis presents itself with various signs and symptoms, most commonly:

  1. Reddish or pink patches of skin, typically in areas rich in oil glands such as the scalp, face, upper chest, and back.
  2. Greasy, swollen skin covered with white or yellowish scales or crust.
  3. Skin flakes (dandruff) on your scalp, hair, eyebrows, beard, or mustache.
  4. Itching, which can be severe at times.
  5. Hair loss, in severe or chronic cases.

The symptoms may vary in severity and may come and go with seasonal changes — often worsening in cold, dry weather.


Diagnosis is typically based on the appearance and location of the skin lesions. Your dermatologist will likely be able to determine the presence of seborrheic dermatitis through a physical examination of the affected skin and a discussion of your symptoms.

In rare cases, a skin biopsy may be needed to rule out other conditions with similar symptoms. A biopsy allows the doctor to examine a small sample of skin under a microscope, which can reveal changes typical of seborrheic dermatitis.

Seborrheic dermatitis can be challenging to manage because it tends to recur, and while treatment can improve the appearance of the skin, it doesn’t cure the condition. However, with proper and consistent treatment, most people can manage the symptoms effectively. 

Prognosis and Impact


Seborrheic dermatitis is a chronic (long-term) condition that tends to fluctuate in severity with periods of flare-ups and remissions. Although it’s not curable, it’s usually manageable with appropriate treatments, and many individuals can keep symptoms at bay with ongoing maintenance therapy. The condition may worsen under stress or during cold, dry weather.

In most cases, seborrheic dermatitis doesn’t affect overall health. It’s important to remember that while it’s not contagious or dangerous, it can cause discomfort due to itching and its appearance can lead to embarrassment or self-consciousness.


Seborrheic dermatitis can have a significant impact on a person’s quality of life, especially during flare-ups. Besides physical discomfort like itching and redness, it may also lead to:

  1. Psychological impact: The appearance of the skin may lead to decreased self-esteem, social anxiety, or depression, especially if the condition affects visible areas like the face or scalp.
  2. Daily activities: Persistent itching or discomfort can distract from daily tasks and affect concentration or productivity.
  3. Hair and skin care routines: People with seborrheic dermatitis may have to change their hair and skincare routines to manage the condition, using special shampoos or avoiding certain products that exacerbate their symptoms.

However, with the right treatment and self-care, most people with seborrheic dermatitis can manage these impacts effectively. Ongoing communication with a healthcare provider or dermatologist is important in finding the best management plan for each individual’s situation.

Treatment Options

The main goal of treating seborrheic dermatitis is to reduce inflammation, scaling, and itchiness. The best course of treatment may depend on your skin type, the severity of your symptoms, and the area of skin affected.

  1. Topical Treatments: These are typically the first line of treatment. They include:
    • Medicated Shampoos: Containing ingredients like ketoconazole, zinc pyrithione, selenium sulfide, coal tar, or salicylic acid. They help to reduce the yeast population on your scalp and alleviate symptoms.
    • Creams and Ointments: Containing corticosteroids, calcineurin inhibitors (like tacrolimus and pimecrolimus), or antifungal creams that are applied directly to the skin to reduce inflammation and control yeast growth.
  2. Phototherapy: In cases where topical treatment is not effective, phototherapy, or light therapy, may be recommended. This involves exposing the skin to specific wavelengths of ultraviolet light under medical supervision.
  3. Oral Medications: In severe or resistant cases, your dermatologist may prescribe oral antifungal medications, or rarely, oral corticosteroids.

Remember, while seborrheic dermatitis is a chronic condition and you may experience periods of improvement followed by flare-ups, the right treatment can help manage symptoms and improve your quality of life. The most effective treatment plan often involves a combination of treatments and ongoing maintenance.

Risks and Side Effects

Topical Treatments:

  1. Medicated Shampoos: These can sometimes cause a burning or stinging sensation, dryness, or oiliness of the scalp or skin, and lightening or darkening of the hair and skin. Some people might also have an allergic reaction to the active ingredients.
  2. Creams and Ointments:
    • Topical corticosteroids can lead to skin thinning, stretch marks, and skin color changes if overused or used for prolonged periods.
    • Calcineurin inhibitors can cause skin irritation or burning at the application site. Rarely, they’ve been associated with an increased risk of skin infections or lymphoma, but a direct cause-and-effect relationship hasn’t been established.


Phototherapy can lead to skin redness, itching, and dryness. Over the long term, there may be an increased risk of skin aging and skin cancer, especially without proper supervision and precautions.

Oral Medications:

  1. Oral antifungals: Common side effects include stomach upset, liver problems, and skin rash. They may also interact with other medications, so it’s important to discuss all the medicines you’re taking with your doctor.
  2. Oral corticosteroids: These are usually only used for short periods due to their significant side effects, including weight gain, high blood pressure, osteoporosis, diabetes, mood changes, and increased susceptibility to infections.

Remember, not everyone will experience these side effects, and some people may experience side effects not listed here. The benefits of treating seborrheic dermatitis usually outweigh the potential risks and side effects, but it’s important to discuss any concerns with your healthcare provider. 

FAQ Section

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

The exact cause is unknown, but it’s believed to be a combination of an overactive immune response to a type of yeast commonly found on the skin, and in some cases, an overproduction of oil on the skin. Other factors, such as stress, cold and dry weather, and certain medical conditions can also trigger symptoms.

No, seborrheic dermatitis is not contagious. You can’t catch it from someone else, nor can you spread it to other parts of your body by touch.

Seborrheic dermatitis is usually diagnosed by its clinical appearance and the locations of the skin changes. Your healthcare provider will examine your skin and may ask about your medical history and symptoms. In rare cases, a skin biopsy may be needed to rule out other conditions.

Treatment aims to reduce inflammation, scaling, and itchiness, and may include medicated shampoos, creams, and lotions. In more severe or resistant cases, phototherapy or oral medications may be recommended. Treatment plans are usually personalized to your specific symptoms and skin type.

While there’s currently no cure for seborrheic dermatitis, symptoms can be effectively managed with the right treatment and self-care. Some people may experience periods of time where their symptoms improve or disappear altogether.

Seborrheic dermatitis primarily affects the skin and does not usually cause serious physical health problems. However, it can have a significant impact on quality of life due to its chronic nature and potential effects on appearance and comfort.

While generally safe, treatments for seborrheic dermatitis can have side effects, ranging from mild skin irritation or dryness to more serious effects such as skin thinning from prolonged topical corticosteroid use. Your healthcare provider will discuss potential risks and side effects with you when determining the best treatment plan.