This is a very common skin disease that causes a rash. When this rash appears, it often looks like the one pictured above. The skin tends to have a:
- Reddish color.
- Swollen and greasy appearance.
- White or yellowish crusty scale on the surface.
- One or more of these rashes can appear on the body. Sometimes, the affected skin itches.
Seborrheic dermatitis can look like psoriasis, eczema, or a skin allergy.
Cradle cap: A type of seborrheic dermatitis
Many infants get cradle cap. This is a type of seborrheic dermatitis (seb-uh-ree-ick dur-muh-tahy-tis) that develops in babies. Scaly, greasy patches form on the baby’s scalp. The patches can become thick and crusty, but cradle cap is harmless. Cradle cap usually goes away on its own within a few months.
Babies also get seborrheic dermatitis in their diaper area and elsewhere. In the diaper area, the red rash often is mistaken for diaper rash. A few babies get seborrheic dermatitis that covers much of the body with red, scaly patches.
No matter where the seborrheic dermatitis forms, it tends to permanently disappear between 6 months and 1 year of age.
Seborrheic dermatitis is long-lasting in adults: When an adult gets seborrheic dermatitis, the condition can come and go for the rest of the person’s life. Flare-ups are common when the weather turns cold and dry. Stress also can trigger a flare-up. The good news is that treatment can reduce flare-ups and bring relief.
The signs and symptoms of seborrheic dermatitis vary with age. The following describes how it affects people at different ages.
In adults and adolescents, seborrheic dermatitis causes:
- Scaly patches on the skin.
- The skin beneath these patches is reddish.
- Although scaly, patches often look greasy or moist.
- Scales can flake off and tend to be yellowish to white.
In adults and adolescents, the skin can:
- Itch, especially on the scalp and in the ear canal.
- Patches form where the skin is oily:
- Patches form where the skin is oily, such as on the scalp, face, and in the ear canals as well as other places.
Infants: When an infant gets seborrheic dermatitis, it tends to form on the scalp and is known as cradle cap. Signs and symptoms of cradle cap include:
- Yellow, greasy scale on the scalp.
- A thick layer of scale can cover the entire scalp.
- Scale is often yellow to brownish in color.
- With time, the scale becomes flaky and easily rubs off.
In infants, seborrheic dermatitis also can form on the face, usually on a baby’s eyelids, around the nose, or ears. It also forms in the diaper area. In a few babies, seborrheic dermatitis covers most of the body. Most infants seem unbothered by seborrheic dermatitis. Cradle cap sometimes itches.
Although treatment cannot cure seborrheic dermatitis, treatment has benefits. Treatment can loosen and remove scale, prevent a skin infection, and reduce swelling and itch.
The type of treatment a dermatologist prescribes varies with age and where the seborrheic dermatitis appears on the skin.
Infants (scalp): Called cradle cap, this tends to completely disappear without treatment. If treatment is necessary, a dermatologist may recommend:
- Shampooing the baby’s scalp daily with a baby shampoo.
- Gently brushing away the scale, once scale starts to soften.
- Applying a medication to the infant’s scalp.
Infants (skin beyond the scalp): This, too, will clear. If treatment is needed, a dermatologist may prescribe a medicine that can be applied to the child’s skin.
Adolescents and adults (scalp and rest of body): After infancy, seborrheic dermatitis usually does not go away without treatment. For the best results, a dermatologist will consider many factors before creating a treatment plan. Treatment may include:
- Dandruff shampoos.
- Medicine to apply to the skin for short periods of time.
- Barrier-repair cream.
Dandruff shampoos can be helpful on the skin as well as the scalp. Your dermatologist can explain how to use these shampoos on the skin.
Often the best results come from combining two or more treatments. Your dermatologist can create a treatment plan to meet your needs. Most plans include medication and skin care.
Always follow your dermatologist’s instructions. Using a treatment more often than prescribed or longer than prescribed can cause side effects.
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