Seborrheic Dermatitis

Seborrheic dermatitis involves pink or red skin with greasy, flaky scales. This is often found on the scalp, eyebrows, nose, bearded area, and on or behind the ears. It can also occur on the central chest. It often occurs where there are more oil (sebaceous) glands. This condition is also known as dandruff. When this condition affects a baby's scalp, it is called cradle cap. It may come and go for no known reason. It can occur at any time of life from infancy to old age.


The cause is unknown. It is not the result of too little moisture or too much oil. In some people, seborrheic dermatitis flare-ups seem to be triggered by stress. It also commonly occurs in people with certain diseases such as Parkinson's disease or HIV/AIDS.


  • Thick scales on the scalp.

  • Redness on the face or in the armpits.

  • The skin may seem oily or dry, but moisturizers do not help.

  • In infants, seborrheic dermatitis appears as scaly redness that does not seem to bother the baby. In some babies, it affects only the scalp. In others, it also affects the neck creases, armpits, groin, or behind the ears.

  • In adults and adolescents, seborrheic dermatitis may affect only the scalp. It may look patchy or spread out, with areas of redness and flaking. Other areas commonly affected include:

  • Eyebrows.

  • Eyelids.

  • Forehead.

  • Skin behind the ears.

  • Outer ears.

  • Chest.

  • Armpits.

  • Nose creases.

  • Skin creases under the breasts.

  • Skin between the buttocks.

  • Groin.

  • Some adults and adolescents feel itching or burning in the affected areas.


Your caregiver can usually tell what the problem is by doing a physical exam.


  • Cortisone (steroid) ointments, creams, and lotions can help decrease inflammation.

  • Babies can be treated with baby oil to soften the scales, then they may be washed with baby shampoo. If this does not help, a prescription topical steroid medicine may work.

  • Adults can use medicated shampoos.

  • Your caregiver may prescribe corticosteroid cream and shampoo containing an antifungal or yeast medicine (ketoconazole). Hydrocortisone or anti-yeast cream can be rubbed directly onto seborrheic dermatitis patches. Yeast does not cause seborrheic dermatitis, but it seems to add to the problem.

In infants, seborrheic dermatitis is often worst during the first year of life. It tends to disappear on its own as the child grows. However, it may return during the teenage years. In adults and adolescents, seborrheic dermatitis tends to be a long-lasting condition that comes and goes over many years.


  • Use prescribed medicines as directed.

  • In infants, do not aggressively remove the scales or flakes on the scalp with a comb or by other means. This may lead to hair loss.


  • The problem does not improve from the medicated shampoos, lotions, or other medicines given by your caregiver.

  • You have any other questions or concerns.