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Seborrheic dermatitis

Seborrheic (seb-o-REE-ik) dermatitis is a common skin condition that mainly affects your scalp. It causes scaly patches, red skin and stubborn dandruff. Seborrheic dermatitis can also affect oily areas of the body, such as the face, upper chest and back.

Seborrheic dermatitis doesn't affect your overall health, but it can be uncomfortable and cause embarrassment. It isn't contagious, and it's not a sign of poor personal hygiene.

Seborrheic dermatitis is usually a long-term condition. You may need many repeated treatments before the symptoms go away. And they may return later. You may be able to manage flare-ups by recognizing seborrheic dermatitis symptoms and using a combination of self-care steps and medications.

Seborrheic dermatitis is also called dandruff, seborrheic eczema and seborrheic psoriasis. For infants, it's known as cradle cap.

Symptoms Causes Risk factors

Seborrheic dermatitis symptoms include:

  • Skin flakes (dandruff) on your scalp, hair, eyebrows, beard or mustache
  • Patches of greasy skin covered with flaky white or yellow scales or crust on the scalp, ears, face, chest, armpits, scrotum or other parts of the body
  • Red skin
  • Redness or crusting of the eyelids (blepharitis)
  • Possibly itching or stinging

When to see a doctor

See your doctor if:

  • You're so uncomfortable that you're losing sleep or being distracted from your daily routines
  • Your condition is causing embarrassment and anxiety
  • You suspect your skin is infected
  • You've tried self-care steps without success

Doctors don't yet know the exact cause of seborrheic dermatitis. But it may be related to:

  • A yeast (fungus) called malassezia that is in the oil secretion on the skin
  • An inflammatory response related to psoriasis
  • The season, with episodes tending to be worse in early spring and winter

A number of factors increase your risk of developing seborrheic dermatitis, including:

  • Neurological and psychiatric conditions, such as Parkinson's disease and depression
  • A weakened immune system, such as seen in organ transplant recipients and people with HIV/AIDS, alcoholic pancreatitis and some cancers
  • Congestive heart failure
  • Endocrine disease that leads to obesity, such as diabetes
  • Some medications
  • Scratching or otherwise damaging the skin on your face
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