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Your risk increases if you have any of these medical conditions:

  • HIV (About 85 percent of people infected with HIV develop seborrheic dermatitis).
  • Acne, rosacea, or psoriasis.
  • Parkinson’s disease.
  • Epilepsy.
  • Stroke or heart attack (recovering from).
  • Alcoholism.
  • Depression.
  • Eating disorder.
  • Medical treatments

If you are taking any of the following medicines, your risk for seborrheic dermatitis increases:

  • Interferon.
  • Lithium.
  • Psoralen.

Seborrheic dermatitis: Diagnosis, treatment and outcome

Seborrheic dermatitis is a condition that dermatologists frequently diagnose and treat.
If you think you might have seborrheic dermatitis, you should see a dermatologist for a diagnosis. This common skin condition can look like psoriasis, eczema, or an allergic reaction. Each of these skin diseases requires different treatment.


A dermatologist diagnoses seborrheic dermatitis by:

  • Reviewing the patient’s medical history.
  • Examining the patient’s skin and looking closely at the rash.
  • Sometimes seborrheic dermatitis is a sign of an underlying medical condition. If your dermatologist suspects this, medical tests may be necessary.


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.


Infant: Seborrheic dermatitis often completely disappears by 6 months to 1 year of age. It can return when the child reaches puberty.
Adolescent or adult: A few people see seborrheic dermatitis clear without treatment. More often, seborrheic dermatitis lasts for years. It tends to clear and flare without warning. Treatment often is necessary to control it.

Seborrheic dermatitis: Tips for managing

These skin-care tips can help keep seborrheic dermatitis under control.

Infants: Cradle cap
Many babies develop this rash on their scalps. Cradle cap normally goes away by 6 to 12 months of age. Until the rash disappears, the following can help:
Shampoo the baby’s scalp daily with a baby shampoo. This will help soften the scale.
Once the scale starts to soften, gently brush it away.

Infants: Diaper area and elsewhere
If you think your baby has seborrheic dermatitis in the diaper area or elsewhere, it is best to see a dermatologist for a diagnosis. This common rash can look a lot like eczema, psoriasis, or an allergic reaction. Each of these conditions requires a different treatment plan.
Adolescents and adults: Scalp
On the scalp, many people can get relief by using one or more dandruff shampoos.
For Caucasian patients, shampooing daily can help. You should use a dandruff shampoo twice a week. If using one dandruff shampoo does not bring relief, try alternating dandruff shampoos. For two days in a row, use the first dandruff shampoo. Then use the second dandruff shampoo for two days in a row. Each dandruff shampoo should contain a different active ingredient. The active ingredients in dandruff shampoos are:

  • Zinc pyrithione.
  • Salicylic acid and sulfur.
  • Coal tar.
  • Selenium sulfide.
  • Ketoconazole.

If you have blond, gray, or white hair, do not use a dandruff shampoo that contains coal tar. It can discolor your hair.
When using a dandruff shampoo, follow the instructions on the shampoo bottle. Some require that you lather and leave it on for about five minutes before rinsing. Others should not be left on the scalp.
If you use a shampoo that contains coal tar, you must protect your scalp from the sun. You can do this by wearing a hat when outdoors and not using indoor tanning devices, such as tanning beds and sun lamps.
African-Americans should shampoo once a week using a dandruff shampoo. It’s best to see a dermatologist for a product recommendation.
Never pull the scale off your scalp. Doing so can cause an infection and noticeable hair loss.
Adolescents and adults: Skin
Wash the skin daily with a soap that contains 2% zinc pyrithione.
Soften scale by:

  • Wetting the skin thoroughly before washing.
  • Applying a moisturizer after bathing.
  • Applying a tar cream, letting it sit on the skin for several hours before rinsing.
  • Applying a cream containing salicylic acid and sulfur.
  • Do not use petroleum jelly to soften the scales. It tends to worsen seborrheic dermatitis.

Seborrheic dermatitis can be stubborn. If these tips fail, you should see a dermatologist. Some people need the expertise of a dermatologist to control seborrheic dermatitis.

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