Seborrheic Dermatitis vs. Psoriasis

Differences in appearance and itchiness

Seborrheic dermatitis and psoriasis are two conditions that affect the skin.

The conditions can be found on many areas of the body, but when found only on the scalp, it can be challenging to identify the difference between psoriasis vs. seborrheic dermatitis.

This article will review seborrheic dermatitis vs. psoriasis, including causes, symptoms, and treatments.

dry skin on scalp

anand purohit / Getty Images

Seborrheic Dermatitis vs. Psoriasis: Compare Symptoms

Seborrheic dermatitis and psoriasis have overlapping and unique symptoms. Below will discuss the symptoms of each condition.

Seborrheic Dermatitis Symptoms

Seborrheic dermatitis is a skin rash affecting areas with abundant oil glands. These include the scalp, eyelids, eyebrows, lips, ears, the center of the chest, and around the nose. Its localization to only these areas is one of its distinctive features. The other symptoms of seborrheic dermatitis include:

  • Inflamed skin
  • Skin scales of crusted areas: Yellow and oily or white and flaky
  • Itching
  • Oily, greasy areas
A close up of seborrheic dermatitis (eczema) on the scalp

Reproduced with permission from © DermNet New Zealand www.dermnetnz.org 2023.

Scalp Psoriasis Symptoms

Psoriasis is a condition that can cause significant symptoms that can interfere with daily life. When psoriasis affects the scalp, the symptoms can be found in the hair or extend past the hairline. These symptoms include:

  • Red, raised skin patches covered in white or silver skin scales
  • Dry skin
  • Cracking skin that can bleed
  • Burning sensation
  • Itching
A person with psoriasis on the scalp

Reproduced with permission from © DermNet New Zealand and © Waikato Hospital www.dermnetnz.org 2023.

Seborrheic Dermatitis vs. Psoriasis: Which Is Autoimmune?

Seborrheic dermatitis and psoriasis may be similar, but their causes are very different. An autoimmune reaction causes psoriasis. It occurs when the body makes too many new skin cells. The skin cells pile up on the skin and cause the symptoms of psoriasis.

Seborrheic dermatitis is caused by a combination of oils on the skin, the presence of yeast (Malassezia) on the skin, and a person's susceptibility to the condition.

Can You Have Both Seborrheic Dermatitis and Psoriasis?

Yes, a person can have both seborrheic dermatitis and psoriasis. They are separate conditions with different causes that affect the skin.

Seborrheic Dermatitis vs. Psoriasis vs. Eczema

Seborrheic dermatitis is a type of eczema. It affects areas of the skin with a lot of oil-producing glands. Psoriasis is a chronic autoimmune condition that causes skin cells to produce at a rapid pace.

Seborrheic Dermatitis vs. Psoriasis: Treatment Differences

Seborrheic dermatitis and psoriasis are treated differently. Though their treatments are different, the objective remains the same: Eliminate or reduce symptoms to allow a person to go through their day comfortably.

Is Either One Treatable at Home?

Seborrheic dermatitis is generally treated at home with over-the-counter (OTC) medicated shampoos and creams.

Scalp psoriasis is treated with medications prescribed by a healthcare provider.

Seborrheic Dermatitis Treatment

Seborrheic dermatitis is typically treated at home with OTC shampoos. There are medicated treatments available for resistant cases. Some people may find that a combination of treatments works best for them. Treatment options include:

  • Dandruff shampoo: OTC dandruff shampoos can treat seborrheic dermatitis and dandruff. Look for ones that contain salicylic acid, zinc, ketoconazole, selenium sulfide, resorcinol, or zinc.
  • Prescription shampoo: A healthcare provider may prescribe a stronger version of an OTC shampoo for severe cases.
  • Corticosteroid: A steroid decreases inflammation, redness, and itching.
  • Medications: Tacrolimus or pimecrolimus are used to suppress the immune system and treat seborrheic dermatitis.
  • Sunlight: Some people find that their skin gets better in the summer when they are outdoors more.
  • Phototherapy: A healthcare provider can use ultraviolet light to treat seborrheic dermatitis.

Scalp Psoriasis Treatment

There are several options to treat scalp psoriasis. A healthcare provider may prescribe one or more of these options. The treatment plan will vary from person to person based on the severity of their condition. Treatments can include:

  • Shampoo: Shampoos containing salicylic acid will break down the outer layer of the skin and can help other medications do their job. Clobetasol propionate shampoo is also successful in treating scalp psoriasis.
  • Topical treatments: Corticosteroids, dithranol, calcipotriol, and salicylic acid are topical medications for scalp psoriasis.
  • Oral medications: Oral treatments that suppress the immune system are an option for treating scalp psoriasis. These medications include Otezla (apremilast), TNF, and IL-12/23 inhibitors.

When Do You Need to See a Healthcare Provider?

When someone has a rash on their scalp that does not respond to OTC medications, they need to contact their healthcare provider.

A healthcare provider should also evaluate a rash that oozes, is very painful, or form a crust. Then, they will be able to determine the source of the rash and recommend the best treatment plan.

Scratching and Bleeding

Scratching scalp psoriasis or seborrheic dermatitis increases the chances of opening up the skin, which can lead to bleeding and infection. It also can trigger more psoriasis plaques to form.

Summary

Scalp psoriasis and seborrheic dermatitis are two skin conditions that cause irritating rashes. While there are many similarities between these conditions, they are very different.

Scalp Psoriasis
  • Autoimmune condition

  • Red, raised patches with silver or white skin scales

  • Prescription treatment

  • Chronic condition

Seborrheic Dermatitis
  • Skin yeast, abundant oil glands, and susceptibility

  • White or yellow flaky skin

  • Over-the-counter or prescription treatment

  • Chronic or acute condition

4 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. MedlinePlus. Seborrheic dermatitis.

  2. American Academy of Dermatology Association. Scalp psoriasis: symptoms.

  3. Gooderham M, Blakely K. Management of scalp psoriasis: current perspectivesPTT. 2016:33-40. doi:10.2147/PTT.S85330

  4. National Psoriasis Foundation. Causes and triggers.

By Patty Weasler, RN, BSN
Patty is a registered nurse with over a decade of experience in pediatric critical care. Her passion is writing health and wellness content that anyone can understand and use.