Seborrheic Dermatitis: A Complicated Name for a Common Condition

Seborrheic dermatitis is a common skin condition that causes red, scaly, itchy patches of skin on the scalp and other areas of the body. According to the National Library of Medicine, about 3 to 10 people out of 100 are affected by this chronic condition. It’s more common in men than in women, and it is seen more often in Caucasians. While seborrheic dermatitis is commonly seen in adults 30 to 60 years old, it’s also seen in babies, where the condition is referred to as cradle cap. 

The disease can occur in many different spots on the body, most commonly seen on the scalp, sides of the nose, and the upper back, i.e. places that have a concentrated amount of sebaceous (oil-producing) glands. It’s likely caused by an excess of Malassezia yeast, which lives on the skin’s surface. Overgrowth leads to an immune system reaction, which can cause inflammation and skin changes like excess oil production and flakes. 

When seborrheic dermatitis occurs in infants, it causes crusty, scaly patches on the scalp or a rash on the bottom that can be confused with diaper rash. Babies often outgrow the condition on their own, but older patients typically experience it in young adulthood. Flare-ups throughout the years are common for adults with seborrheic dermatitis, and the condition requires regulation and self-care to handle and prevent. Bouts of scaling are commonly seen in the wintertime and during periods of stress, but lack of sleep can also contribute to the problem.

Treatment for seborrheic dermatitis on the skin and face can include washing with a gentle zinc cleanser (containing 2 percent zinc pyrithione) and following up with a light moisturizer. Dermatologists might prescribe a topical antifungal cream for affected areas or a medicated shampoo for the scalp. They also might suggest beginning with an over-the-counter option for dandruff shampoo.

While the condition is fairly common, it requires a skilled dermatologist to correctly diagnose, as many other conditions can mimic it. If you have concerns about the health of your skin or scalp, talk with a dermatologist for peace of mind and solutions.

This column is sponsored by Lakeside Dermatology, and the opinions expressed herein may not reflect those of CFHN or its advertisers.

BIO: Dr. Alex Kennon, MD, FAAD, is a board-certified dermatologist who is fellowship-trained in Mohs micrographic surgery. He received his undergraduate and medical degrees from Florida State University and completed his dermatology residency at the Medical College of Georgia at Augusta University. Lakeside Dermatology has offices in Sebring and Winter Haven.

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