Woman applying cream to face

Seborrheic Dermatitis

Seborrheic dermatitis is a chronic inflammatory skin condition that causes red patches with overlying yellowish, greasy-appearing scales to form on oily areas of the skin like the scalp, face, upper chest, and back. 

The exact cause of seborrheic dermatitis is not known, but it is thought to involve an autoimmune response to a fungus or other microorganisms that normally live on the skin. The condition is not contagious.

Seborrheic dermatitis is often a chronic, relapsing condition that requires long-term treatment with antifungal shampoo or, if on areas other than the scalp, with topical steroids or antifungal creams.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What causes seborrheic dermatitis?

    A number of factors are thought to cause seborrheic dermatitis. These include an autoimmune response to a fungus or other microorganisms that normally lives on the skin and genetics. Those with HIV are also prone to developing the condition.

  • How do you treat seborrheic dermatitis?

    Treatments for seborrheic dermatitis include antifungal shampoos, topical antifungal ointments, steroid ointments, and tailored skin-cleansing regimens. Certain lifestyle measures may also be helpful, including staying well-hydrated and avoiding skin products that contain alcohol.

  • Is seborrheic dermatitis contagious?

    No, seborrheic dermatitis is not contagious. The condition, characterized by itchy, flaky patches on the skin and scalp, is thought to be caused by a variety of factors, but it is not transmissible.

  • Is seborrheic dermatitis a fungus?

    Seborrheic dermatitis is not a fungus in itself, but a reaction to malassezia, a fungus, or yeast. Malassezia normally lives on the skin, and those with seborrheic dermatitis are thought to have an abnormal inflammatory response to it, causing symptoms.

Key Terms

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  • Seborrheic dermatitis: Overview. InformedHealth.org [Internet]. Cologne, Germany: Institute for Quality and Efficiency in Health Care [Updated 2020 Jun 18].