The Link Between Seborrheic Dermatitis and Hair Loss

Seborrheic dermatitis is a fungal skin condition that causes flaky, white or yellowish scales to form on oily areas, such as the scalp, face, or inside the ear. Also called seborrheic eczema, it can occur with or without reddened skin. Seborrheic dermatitis is known as cradle cap in infants.

Seborrheic dermatitis primarily affects the scalp, but it also can develop on other parts of the body. In rare cases, seborrheic dermatitis can cause hair loss by damaging hair follicles and preventing hair growth. Thankfully, it is usually reversible with over-the-counter (OTC) or prescription treatments.

Woman looking into mirror holding hair baby in background

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Symptoms of Seborrheic Dermatitis

Seborrheic dermatitis can be confused with other conditions, especially in young children. It is commonly mistaken for diaper rash and eczema.

It often forms where the skin is oily or greasy. Common areas include the scalp, eyebrows, eyelids, creases of the nose, lips, behind the ears, in the outer ear, and in the middle of the chest.

In general, symptoms of seborrheic dermatitis include:

  • Skin lesions with scales
  • Plaques over a large area
  • Greasy, oily areas of skin
  • Skin scales, usually white and flaking or yellowish, oily, and sticky dandruff
  • Itching
  • Mild redness

How Does It Cause Hair Loss?

Hair loss is associated with seborrheic dermatitis because increased oil production can create irritation and inflammation on the scalp, leading to intense itchiness. Scratching the scalp can damage the hair follicles, which obstructs natural hair growth and causes your hair to fall out. 

Hair loss from seborrheic dermatitis, though, is rare and usually reversible. It may occur, however, due to the growth of Malassezia yeast. This type of yeast can cause inflammation and further damage to hair follicles if a lot is produced and left untreated. Just like increased oil production, increased Malassezia production can cause hair loss.

When to See a Doctor

If you notice symptoms of seborrheic dermatitis in yourself or your child, contact your doctor for evaluation and possible referral to a dermatologist.

Treatment

Treatment is not always needed with seborrheic dermatitis. Sometimes the condition clears up on its own. However, it can also be chronic.

Treatments will depend on the location and severity of the seborrheic dermatitis and the age of the person. Your healthcare provider will prepare a treatment plan for you or your child based on these factors, but usually treatment starts with over-the-counter medications and home remedies.

Treatment for Infants

For infants, the symptoms of cradle cap often clear up on their own without medication. If treatment is needed, over-the-counter products will usually work. OTC treatment for infants includes a gentle shampoo applied to the scalp as well as something to loosen the scales, like baby oil, olive oil, or petroleum jelly.

To prevent recurrence, doctors recommend continuing a daily regimen of washing the hair with baby shampoo.

If OTC treatments aren't relieving symptoms, a prescription may be required. While uncommon, infants may need a prescription to treat cradle cap. Usually, this is an antifungal cream prescription.

Treatment for Adults

For adults, mild cases of seborrheic dermatitis may also clear up on their own. If treatment is required, OTC dandruff shampoo or other OTC medications can be used to treat it.

Treatment for adults may include:

  • Dandruff shampoo: Ingredients include coal tar, ketoconazole, salicylic acid, selenium sulfide, or zinc pyrithione
  • Creams or ointments: Hydrocortisone, fluocinolone, clobetasol, or desonide
  • Antifungal medication: A pill may be prescribed

For adults, prescription dandruff shampoo such as Nizoral 2% shampoo may be recommended.

Prognosis

Seborrheic dermatitis isn't associated with serious conditions or known to lead to severe symptoms. In the rare times when hair loss happens as a result of seborrheic dermatitis, the hair loss is temporary.

Since seborrheic dermatitis can be chronic, a regimen recommended by your doctor may need to be followed to keep flare-ups under control.

Seborrheic Dermatitis Doctor Discussion Guide

Doctor Discussion Guide Child

Summary

Losing your hair is no fun, but it is reversible in the case of seborrheic dermatitis. You can treat it with an over-the-counter shampoo, cream, or ointment. If these remedies fail to work, talk to your doctor. Prescriptions may be able to help.

A Word From Verywell

The appearance of flakes on your scalp or your child's can be alarming. If you have seborrheic dermatitis, you may find it troubling and embarrassing. This is even more true if it's causing your hair to fall out. While seborrheic dermatitis can lead to hair loss in some cases, the outlook is optimistic, and treatments are available to help. If you are experiencing symptoms of skin disease, contact your doctor for evaluation and treatment.

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2 Sources
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  1. MedlinePlus. Seborrheic dermatitis. Updated May 25, 2021.

  2. Trüeb RM, Henry JP, Davis MG, Schwartz JR. Scalp Condition Impacts Hair Growth and Retention via Oxidative Stress. Int J Trichology. 2018 Nov-Dec;10(6):262-270. doi:10.4103/ijt.ijt_57_18