Seborrheic Dermatitis

Seborrheic dermatitis is a skin condition characterized by red, flaky skin. It is much more than just dandruff. While dandruff occurs exclusively on the scalp, seborrheic dermatitis can affect skin on other parts of the body and can be serious enough to cause complications.


Although the exact cause of seborrheic dermatitis is unknown, it would appear that a dysfunction of the sebaceous glands and a microscopic yeast-like fungus called Malassezia, which is found in sebum, play a significant role in the emergence of this condition. Poor hygiene, stress and a dry environment are also thought to aggravate the symptoms of seborrheic dermatitis.

Sebaceous glands:glands in the skin that open into hair follicles and secrete sebum.
Sebum:oily secretion that plays an important role in protecting the skin.

Persons at risk

This condition affects between 3-5% of the population. Infants aged 3 to 8 months are most commonly affected (known as cradle cap). The condition is quite rare in adults and risk decreases with age. It affects more men than women.


Seborrheic dermatitis is characterized by red, itchy patches of skin covered with silver-coloured scales. In more severe cases, you may also notice thick, yellow patches. These symptoms commonly occur in areas of the skin where there is a rich supply of sebaceous glands. The scalp and face (eyebrows, nose, eyelashes, nasolabial fold) are most often affected. In men, lesions can also appear on the chest and back. An individual can experience periods of intense symptoms alternating with periods that are symptom-free.

Possible complications include bacterial superinfection of lesions requiring antibiotic treatment. Developing seborrheic dermatitis in the eyelashes may lead to inflamed eyelids and interfere with contact lens wear. It is therefore important to treat symptoms as soon as they appear while they are mild and easy to manage.


After a thorough physical examination and discussion with your physician, he or she will be able to determine whether the lesions are caused by seborrheic dermatitis or another skin disorder such as psoriasis or atopic dermatitis.

Treatment and prevention

Treatments aimed at reducing symptoms do exist. They are based on skin type and severity. Treatments consist of medicated shampoos and lotions that have anti-fungal (inhibits the growth of fungi), keratolytic (helps dissolve and clear away crusts) and anti-inflammatory (reduces itchiness and redness) properties. There is no cure for seborrheic dermatitis.

Before and during treatment, a few simple measures may help reduce the intensity and frequency of symptoms:

  • Wash hair daily if head is affected (with regular or medicated shampoo);
  • Avoid irritating lesions by scratching excessively and using soaps or other irritants;
  • Keep skin well hydrated (use oil-free creams or lotions, make sure your environment is cool and humid);
  • Shave beard and mustache daily if this area if affected;
  • Adopt a healthy lifestyle: rest, healthy diet, regular exercise, minimal stress.

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