Seborrheic dermatitis

Last updated: July 9, 2021

Summarytoggle arrow icon

Seborrheic dermatitis is a common chronic inflammatory skin condition that affects areas with high sebaceous activity (e.g., scalp). The etiology remains unknown, but microbial colonization of the skin (esp. Malassezia), immunological factors, climate, or stress have been implicated. This condition is characterized by intermittent flares with intervening asymptomatic periods. Patients may exhibit either an erythematous, patchy scaling, or greasy yellow crusts, both of which could be associated with burning or itching. Early treatment of acute flares with topical glucocorticosteroids is recommended. Topical ketoconazole is used to relieve symptoms. The condition tends to recur over a lifetime despite treatment. Infantile seborrheic dermatitis (also referred to as “cradle cap”) is a subtype of seborrheic dermatitis and appears shortly after birth, primarily affecting the scalp. As opposed to seborrheic dermatitis in adults, it usually heals without treatment after a few months.

Epidemiologytoggle arrow icon


Epidemiological data refers to the US, unless otherwise specified.

Etiologytoggle arrow icon


Pathophysiologytoggle arrow icon


Clinical featurestoggle arrow icon

  • Chronic course with episodic, active phases (associated burning and itching) alternating with inactive, asymptomatic periods
  • Ranges from erythematous plaques with patchy scaling → greasy yellow crusts, distributed along areas with hair and oily skin:


Diagnosticstoggle arrow icon

Consider HIV or Parkinson's disease if there is a marked or unusual distribution of seborrheic dermatitis!References:[5]

Differential diagnosestoggle arrow icon

The differential diagnoses listed here are not exhaustive.

Treatmenttoggle arrow icon

Steroidal creams should only be used for short periods because long-term use increases the risk of recurrences.


Complicationstoggle arrow icon


We list the most important complications. The selection is not exhaustive.

Prognosistoggle arrow icon

  • No cure: often a chronic, recurrent course
  • The active phases of seborrheic dermatitis are easily controllable with treatment


Special patient groupstoggle arrow icon

Infantile seborrheic dermatitis


Referencestoggle arrow icon

  1. Ooi ET, Tidman MJ. Improving the management of seborrhoeic dermatitis. Practitioner. 2014; 258 (1768): p.23-26.
  2. Gupta AK, Bluhm R, Barlow JO, Fleischer AB Jr, Feldman SR. Prescribing practices for seborrheic dermatitis vary with the physician's specialty: implications for clinical practice. J Dermatolog Treat. 2004; 15 (4): p.208-213.doi: 10.1080/09546630410032430 . | Open in Read by QxMD
  3. Clark GW, Pope SM, Jaboori KA. Diagnosis and treatment of seborrheic dermatitis. Am Fam Physician. 2015; 91 (3): p.185-190.
  4. Handler MZ. Seborrheic Dermatitis. In: James WD, Seborrheic Dermatitis. New York, NY: WebMD. Updated: April 10, 2017. Accessed: May 16, 2017.
  5. Sasseville D. Seborrheic Dermatitis in Adolescents and Adults. In: Post TW, ed. UpToDate. Waltham, MA: UpToDate. Last updated: December 30, 2015. Accessed: May 16, 2017.
  6. Zisova LG. Malassezia species and seborrheic dermatitis. Folia Med (Plovdiv). 2009; 51 (1): p.23-33.
  7. Gupta AK, Nicol KA. Seborrheic dermatitis of the scalp: etiology and treatment. J Drugs Dermatol. 2004; 3 (2): p.155-158.
  8. Levin NA. Beyond spaghetti and meatballs: Skin diseases associated with the Malassezia yeasts. Dermatology Nursing. 2009; 21 (1).
  9. Agabegi SS, Agabegi ED. Step-Up To Medicine. Lippincott Williams & Wilkins ; 2013
  10. Bergbrant IM, Johansson S, Robbins D, Scheynius A, Faergemann J, Söderström T. An immunological study in patients with seborrhoeic dermatitis. Clin Exp Dermatol. 1991; 16 (5): p.331-338.
  11. Seborrhoeic Eczema. Updated: December 20, 2016. Accessed: May 16, 2017.
  12. Gold MH, Bridges T, Avakian EV, Plaum S, Fleischer AB, Hardas B. An open-label pilot study of naftifine 1% gel in the treatment of seborrheic dermatitis of the scalp. J Drugs Dermatol. 2012; 11 (4): p.514-518.
  13. Gary G. Optimizing treatment approaches in seborrheic dermatitis. J Clin Aesthet Dermatol. 2013; 6 (2): p.44-49.
  14. Leiner Disease. Updated: January 1, 2003. Accessed: May 16, 2017.
  15. Agrawal R. Diaper Dermatitis. In: Elston DM, Diaper Dermatitis. New York, NY: WebMD. Updated: August 11, 2016. Accessed: May 16, 2017.
  16. Sasseville D. Cradle Cap and Seborrheic Dermatitis in Infants . In: Post TW, ed. UpToDate. Waltham, MA: UpToDate. Last updated: July 6, 2017. Accessed: August 27, 2017.

Icon of a lock3 free articles remaining

You have 3 free member-only articles left this month. Sign up and get unlimited access.
 Evidence-based content, created and peer-reviewed by physicians. Read the disclaimer