Seborrheic Dermatitis

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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 apparently spontaneous remissions and exacerbations.
  • Seborrheic dermatitis affects all ages.

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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 entirely 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 12/16/2014

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