What is seborrheic dermatitis?

Seborrheic Dermatitis
The exact cause of seborrheic dermatitis is unknown. However, some scientists opine that genes and hormones may play a role in giving rise to seborrheic dermatitis.

Seborrheic dermatitis is an inflammatory skin disease characterized by flaky, red, or yellowish scales that resemble dandruff. Sometimes, the scales may itch or even crust and ooze.

Seborrheic dermatitis affects people of all ages. It keeps recurring, i.e., it goes away for a while and comes back again. However, it most commonly affects adults between ages 30 to 60 and infants under 3 months.

Seborrheic dermatitis can only be managed, not cured. With proper treatment, you can relieve symptoms and prevent complications.

What are the signs and symptoms of seborrheic dermatitis?

Seborrheic dermatitis in adults is characterized by yellow or red, dry or greasy scales or crusts on different parts of the body that include:

  • Scalp: Most commonly affected part in seborrheic dermatitis
  • Face: Seborrheic dermatitis is commonly found:
  • Around the nose
  • In the eyebrows
  • On the eyelids
  • Behind the ears
  • On the chest
  • Around the navel
  • On the buttocks
  • In skin folds under the arms
  • On the legs
  • In the groin
  • Below the breasts

Seborrheic dermatitis in babies is commonly known as “cradle cap,” as it appears most commonly over the scalp. It can spread extensively and cause rashes in the diaper area. It should not be confused with diaper rash. Cradle cap usually resolves by itself without any treatment disappearing between six months to one year of age.

What causes seborrheic dermatitis?

The exact cause of seborrheic dermatitis is unknown. However, some scientists opine that genes and hormones may play a role in giving rise to seborrheic dermatitis.

It has been observed that a tiny fungus known as Malassezia furfur contributes to the development of seborrheic dermatitis.

Since seborrheic dermatitis most commonly occurs in areas with heavy sebum production, it is believed that oily skin may be one of the factors leading to seborrheic dermatitis.

Conditions that may increase the risk of seborrheic dermatitis include:

Neither poor hygiene nor allergies cause seborrheic dermatitis.

What triggers seborrheic dermatitis?

Seborrheic dermatitis can flare up anytime and is triggered mainly by:

Other things that can trigger seborrheic dermatitis include:

  • Hormonal changes
  • Harsh detergents and soaps
  • Medicines such as psoralen, lithium, and interferon

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What foods trigger seborrheic dermatitis?

Although no particular food has been identified as a trigger for seborrheic dermatitis, some studies link certain foods to seborrheic dermatitis.

One such study published in the Journal of Investigative Dermatology (2018) found that a “western” dietary pattern that mainly consists of meat and processed food—food that has been cooked, canned, frozen, dried, baked, and packaged—might trigger seborrheic dermatitis. Processed foods include:

  • Cheese
  • Tofu
  • Bread
  • Cake
  • Cookies
  • Ketchup
  • Salty chips like potato chips

How is seborrheic dermatitis treated?

Initially, you can try using over-the-counter products such as shampoos, creams, and lotions that contain any one of the following ingredients:

  • Selenium sulfide
  • Zinc pyrithione
  • Coal tar
  • Salicylic acid
  • Ketoconazole

Antifungal medications like ketoconazole have shown excellent results in dealing with seborrheic dermatitis.

If your rash does not go away with these products, you should see your doctor right away. There may be other skin diseases present like psoriasis, which may worsen without proper treatment.

Avoid using products containing steroids for local applications without asking your doctor. Steroids come with their set of side effects; hence, only your doctor can decide if they are appropriate for you. 

Your doctor may prescribe you antifungal pills to be taken by mouth apart from the lotions/creams that you have been using. He might even suggest a variety of treatments.

Seborrheic dermatitis has been observed to become less severe in the summer. Hence, exposure to sunlight may help in reducing the flaring of seborrheic dermatitis. Your doctor might also recommend light therapy for your seborrheic dermatitis.

Eating fruits, especially citrus fruits such as oranges and bell peppers might help you fight the inflammation in seborrheic dermatitis.

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Medically Reviewed on 7/2/2020
References
References:

Seborrheic Dermatitis. Available at: https://emedicine.medscape.com/article/1108312-overview

Seborrheic Dermatitis. Available at: https://www.webmd.com/skin-problems-and-treatments/seborrheic-dermatitis-medref#2

Seborrheic Dermatitis. Available at: https://www.medicinenet.com/seborrheic_dermatitis/article.htm

Seborrheic Dermatitis. Available at: https://nationaleczema.org/eczema/types-of-eczema/seborrheic-dermatitis/

Sanders MGH, Pardo LM, Ginger RS, Kiefte-de Jong JC, Nijsten T. Association between Diet and Seborrheic Dermatitis: A Cross-Sectional Study. J Invest Dermatol. 2019;139(1):108-114. Available at: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30130619/
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