Seborrheic Dermatitis

Seborrheic dermatitis is a very common inflammatory disease of the skin, occurring in up to 5% of the population. The condition presents with red patches with greasy scale. Commonly affected areas include the scalp (causing dandruff), eyebrows, eyelids, cheeks, lips, ears, creases behind the ears, chest and underarms. Itching is generally not a feature of this disorder. Individuals with Parkinson`s disease often have severe seborrheic dermatitis. This eruption is also more common in HIV-positive patients.

What is the cause of seborrheic dermatitis?

The cause of seborrheic dermatitis is not well understood, but some cases appear to be related to the yeast called Pityrosporum ovale.

Is seborrheic dermatitis contagious?

Seborrheic dermatitis has not been shown to be contagious.


Seborrheic dermatitis can take on an appearance that closely resembles psoriasis, and there is a condition called sebopsoriasis which has features of both seborrheic dermatitis and psoriasis. Sebopsoriasis typically is not associated with psoriatic arthritis.

What can I do to treat seborrheic dermatitis?

Because seborrheic dermatitis is considered to be more of a nuisance than a serious health condition, most of the treatments are topical, rather than systemic, and include:

Corticosteroid creams, gels, sprays and foam
Corticosteroids for the scalp: e.g. fluocinolone. fluocinonide
Ketoconazole cream
Topical calcineurin inhibitors e.g. pimecrolimus, tacrolimus
Shampoos for the scalp include:
Selenium sulfide
Zinc pyrithione
Salicylic acid
Products for use on the ears include:
Cortisporin otic suspension (containing two antibiotics and a mild cortisone)
Desonide otic lotion (mild corticosteroid and acetic acid)
Sodium sulfacetamide drops
For severe cases, oral antibiotics or antifungals can be used for short periods of time.

Am I going to have seborrheic dermatitis forever?

Seborrheic dermatitis usually is chronic, recurrent or persistent. Periodic use of the above-listed therapies in combination or alone can usually keep the rash under very good control.