The symptoms of seborrheic dermatitis vary from person to person, but they almost always involve the scalp and face. Common symptoms include dry, itchy, flaky patches of discolored skin. Many people experience flare-ups caused by environmental factors like stress and cold weather. In infants, symptoms usually go away a few months after birth, but adults often need treatment to control seborrheic dermatitis.
Adults between ages 30 and 60, particularly white men, are more likely to develop seborrheic dermatitis symptoms, according to Cleveland Clinic. The condition isn’t caused by poor personal hygiene, and it isn’t contagious.
Seborrheic dermatitis symptoms occur on areas of the skin that have higher concentrations of sebaceous glands, or oil glands. Sebaceous glands exist all over the body except the palms of the hands and soles of the feet. These glands produce a natural oil known as sebum, which helps keep skin moisturized and protects it from invading bacteria.
The face and scalp have a high number of sebaceous glands, which is why some people have oilier skin there. Other areas of skin commonly affected by seborrheic dermatitis include:
About 88 percent of seborrheic dermatitis cases affect the face, 70 percent affect the scalp, and 27 percent affect the chest. Seborrheic dermatitis symptoms tend to be symmetrical, occurring on both sides of the body.
Depending on the severity of your seborrheic dermatitis, you may also notice symptoms in these places:
Studies show that 2.3 percent of people with seborrheic dermatitis experience symptoms on the legs and feet, and 1.3 percent have symptoms on their arms and hands.
Symptoms of seborrheic dermatitis often develop in adolescents (teenagers) going through puberty and in middle-aged adults. These symptoms include:
Studies show that the most common symptom of seborrheic dermatitis is dandruff, affecting 15 percent to 20 percent — some findings suggest 50 percent — of people with the condition.
Blepharitis commonly occurs alongside seborrheic dermatitis. In studies of people with blepharitis, from 33 percent to 46 percent of those with the condition also have seborrheic dermatitis. Although the exact cause is unknown, researchers believe blepharitis is caused by bacterial growth or a buildup of oils on the eyelid. Along with inflammation and scaly patches, dandruff can appear along the eyelashes.
People with darker skin tones may develop petaloid seborrheic dermatitis — red, scaly patches in the eyebrows and the skin folds between the cheeks and nose. Petaloid seborrheic dermatitis may also appear as a pink or light-colored round rash shaped like flower petals.
Discoloration — either lighter or darker than the surrounding skin — may also occur in people with darker skin.
Seborrheic dermatitis in infants may develop from a buildup of sebum or yeast growth. Known as cradle cap, this condition affects around 70 percent of newborns. However, unlike seborrheic dermatitis in teenagers and adults, cradle cap usually goes away on its own after six to 12 months.
Symptoms of cradle cap in lighter skin tones include:
In infants with darker skin tones, cradle cap symptoms include:
Cradle cap may also lead to rashes in skin folds, especially at the back of the neck and in the groin area, where it might first be mistaken for a diaper rash. Rashes that form on the scalp, ears, and face are rarely itchy or painful.
If your baby’s skin doesn’t clear up with use of lotions or medicated shampoos, it’s possible they have another skin condition such as atopic dermatitis.
Seborrheic dermatitis is a chronic inflammatory condition, meaning you’ll experience alternating periods of flares and clear skin over time. Some environmental factors can cause symptoms to become worse, and learning what sets off your flares can help you manage your seborrheic dermatitis. Unfortunately, some triggers, such as weather changes, can’t be avoided. Your dermatologist will prescribe treatments to help you manage these flares.
Seborrheic dermatitis flares are more common in winter and tend to ease up during summer. Researchers believe that ultraviolet light from the sun might kill the yeast living in sebum, making symptoms less severe. Other environmental factors that may contribute to seborrheic dermatitis flares include:
Seborrheic dermatitis can affect your mental health and quality of life. Because the condition mainly affects the face and scalp, it can be difficult to hide symptoms like rashes or excess dandruff. Many people with seborrheic dermatitis may also worry about flares or that other people will think their symptoms are caused by a lack of personal hygiene.
Symptoms can lead to the development of mental health disorders such as anxiety or depression. Studies show that people with seborrheic dermatitis experience depression similarly to those who have other skin diseases, such as psoriasis and atopic dermatitis. Specifically, women and teenagers with seborrheic dermatitis have lower quality-of-life scores compared with people who have dandruff only, according to a study published in the journal Mycoses.
If you begin to notice symptoms of anxiety or depression, talk to your doctor or a mental health provider. They’ll discuss your treatment options, which might include medications such as antidepressants or therapy. You can also connect with other people living with seborrheic dermatitis on MySebDermTeam to talk about your experiences and find support.
Although seborrheic dermatitis can’t yet be cured, it can be managed with a variety of treatments. These therapies focus on clearing the skin and managing flares so they’re less noticeable.
Treating seborrheic dermatitis involves a combination of creams, lotions, ointments, and shampoos that contain medications. These include:
You can read more about different treatment options and how they’re used in the treatment guide.
MySebDermTeam is the social network for people with seborrheic dermatitis and their loved ones. MySebDermTeam members come together to ask questions, give advice, and share their stories with those who understand.
Have you experienced seborrheic dermatitis rashes on your face, scalp, or body? Do you have advice for others on managing these symptoms? Share your tips and experiences in a comment below or on your Activities page.