Seborrheic Dermatitis

  • Medical Author:
    Gary W. Cole, MD, FAAD

    Dr. Cole is board certified in dermatology. He obtained his BA degree in bacteriology, his MA degree in microbiology, and his MD at the University of California, Los Angeles. He trained in dermatology at the University of Oregon, where he completed his residency.

  • Medical Editor: William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR
    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.

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Seborrheic dermatitis facts

  • Seborrheic dermatitis is probably the single most common inflammatory skin condition affecting humans aside from acne vulgaris.
  • Seborrheic dermatitis is highly treatable but incurable.
  • The course of seborrheic dermatitis is characterized by spontaneous remissions and exacerbations.
  • Seborrheic dermatitis affects all ages.

What is seborrheic dermatitis?

Seborrheic dermatitis is a chronic skin inflammation that becomes worse and better spontaneously. Seborrheic dermatitis causes an eczema-type eruption commonly affecting portions of the head and upper torso. Seborrheic dermatitis is also known as seborrhea.

Picture of seborrheic dermatitis along the hairline
Picture of seborrheic dermatitis along the hairline; photo courtesy of Gary W. Cole, MD, FAAD

What are risk factors for seborrheic dermatitis?

Although almost all patients with seborrheic dermatitis are generally healthy, there does seem to be an association with diseases of the central nervous system and AIDS.

What causes seborrheic dermatitis?

The causes of seborrheic dermatitis are poorly understood. Since this condition tends to occur in areas of heavy sebum production, it is felt that oily skin may be a factor leading to seborrheic dermatitis. In addition, it seems that many patients with seborrheic dermatitis have excessive growth of a normal skin yeast (Pityrosporum or Malassezia) in the affected areas. Whether this common microorganism really leads to seborrheic dermatitis or is just a secondary phenomenon remains to be determined.

The fact that topical antifungal medications are effective in controlling this disease has led some to conclude that this is a fungal condition. However, this theory is not yet accepted.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 3/18/2016

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