Seborrheic Dermatitis

Seborrheic dermatitis is a common skin condition that mainly affects your scalp (dandruff) and can be really frustrating for those that experience it. 

The skin condition causes a notoriously itchy scalp, which, when scratched, can then cause tiny flakes of skin to fall onto your shoulders and around the neck. If you happen to be wearing a dark-colored top, then you can expect this to show up rather obviously -- and can be noticeable under a UV light! 

Other than that white flaking, itching is arguably the most uncomfortable side effect that comes from dandruff, but what exactly is your scratchy scalp trying to tell you?


What Exactly is Seborrheic Dermatitis?

Seborrheic dermatitis is a common skin disease that causes an itchy rash with flaky and greasy scales. It causes redness on those with light skin and light patches on those with dark skin. Seborrheic dermatitis is also called dandruff, cradle cap, seborrhea, and seborrheic psoriasis. 

In most cases, it affects your scalp (dandruff), but you can get it anywhere on your body--even the armpits. It’s kind of a lot.

Now that you have a general idea of what seborrheic dermatitis is, let’s dive into the nitty-gritty in terms of causes, symptoms, and all that jazz. 

What Causes Seborrheic Dermatitis?

Your scalp is itchy, greasy white flakes keep falling out of your hair, and you’re about to scream. You know that you have dandruff--but why?

And although experts don’t know exactly what causes seborrheic dermatitis, they’ve got a few ideas. In fact, it seems to be a mix of things, including:

  • Your genes 

  • Stress

  • Certain medical conditions and medicines

  • A type of yeast/fungi called Malassezia that usually lives on your skin without causing problems -- so, we think!

  • Cold, dry weather

  • An immune system response

  • An increased level of androgens (a hormone)

  • An increased level of skin lipids

Despite what many people have come to believe, seborrheic dermatitis does not come from an allergy or from being dirty. 

Who Gets This Skin Disorder?

Roughly 11% of the population, so quiiiite a few people.

Seborrheic dermatitis occurs most often in infants younger than three months old and in adults ages 30 to 60. It’s more common in the guys than the gals and in Caucasians more so than African Americans. 

If you're born with naturally oily skin, you’re more likely to get this type of dermatitis. A history of psoriasis in your family tree makes you more susceptible as well. If you live in a cold, dry region, the weather doesn’t cause seborrheic dermatitis -- but it does make it worse, much worse. 


If you have any of these health issues, you’re more prone to seborrheic dermatitis.

  • HIV

  • Adult Hodgkin’s Lymphoma

  • Adult Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma

  • Organ transplant recipients

  • Depression 

  • Tardive Dyskinesia

  • Epilepsy

  • Parkinson’s disease

  • Spinal cord injury

  • Facial nerve palsy

  • Down syndrome


You are also much more likely to develop seborrheic dermatitis if you take these psychotropic meds:

  • Lithium

  • Haloperidol decanoate

  • Chlorpromazine

  • Buspirone


Symptoms of Seborrheic Dermatitis

Little ones who are three months and younger often get cradle cap, which is crusty yellow or brown scales on their scalp. It usually goes away before they reach a year old, although it can come back when they reach puberty -- as if raging hormones weren’t enough!

Adults might develop seborrheic dermatitis on their face, especially around their nose, on their eyelids, behind the ears, and even in their eyebrows. 

It can show up on other parts of your body, too:

  • Around your belly button

  • On your butt

  • In skin folds under your arms and on your legs

  • In the middle part of your chest

  • Below your breasts

  • In your groin

  • Or most commonly, on your scalp (AKA dandruff)

Your skin might feel like it’s on fire, causing it to be extremely itchy. The scales that flake off could be white or yellowish and look oily or moist. 

Some of the other symptoms of seborrheic dermatitis include:

  • Pinkish plaques, or thick skin, of scales on both sides of your face.

  • Red scales on your skin 

  • Itchy white flakes on your scalp

  • Blepharitis (scaly redness on the edges of your eyelids)

  • Flaky and itchy patches on your chest and at your hairline that are shaped like a ring or flower petal

  • Overall redness and itchiness

Since seborrheic dermatitis can look like other serious skin conditions, it’s important to see your doctor to get an accurate diagnosis and lock in a treatment plan.


How to Treat Seborrheic Dermatitis

In order to diagnose Seborrheic Dermatitis, your primary care physician will ask you about your medical history and take a good look at your skin. They might scrape off a tiny bit of skin to look at it further under a microscope, but don’t worry, it’s chill. 

Your doctor will do this to rule out other conditions that affect your skin, including:

  • Psoriasis

  • Eczema

  • Allergic Reaction

  • Rosacea

  • Systemic lupus erythematosus

Seborrheic dermatitis triggers depend on skin type and sensitivity. When it comes to great natural solutions, there’s no one-size-fits-all option. 

Here are some of the best natural remedies that may help you to keep seborrheic dermatitis symptoms at bay or treat flare-ups!

Good Skincare

For seborrheic dermatitis on the body, especially the face, it’s best to keep affected areas clean by washing with soap and water daily. Stay away from harsh chemicals and questionable ingredients and reach for top-notch skin care moisturizers like our Like Butter hydrating mask. Take care of your skin.

Getting plenty of natural sunlight can also help to stop the growth of yeast that inflames skin during a flare-up. And it’s perfect for a summertime selfie.

For those with scalp issues, adults can use over-the-counter (OTC) dandruff shampoos or medicated shampoos that contain salicylic acid, selenium sulfide, coal tar, ketoconazole (topical antifungal), or zinc pyrithione. 


Fish Oil

Rich in omega-3 fatty acids, fish oil is well-known for its anti-inflammatory qualities. In fact, research suggests that taking fish oil supplements causes a reduction in the skin symptoms of various inflammatory skin conditions, such as seborrheic dermatitis.

Fish oil is safe, provided you take it as directed. But breastfeeding mamas should be aware that taking this supplement increases the level of omega-3 fatty acids in their breast milk, which can be passed to their little one.  

Aloe Vera

Another supplement that has powerful anti-inflammatory qualities, aloe vera, has been used for many years to help soothe irritated skin related to seborrheic dermatitis. Don’t give aloe vera supplements to kids under age ten years without first discussing the safety and dosage with a doctor.



In addition to a great skincare routine, probiotics can help boost your immune system and decrease inflammatory responses throughout your body. While research on the effects of probiotics on the number of seborrheic dermatitis flare-ups is pretty limited, probiotics still promote healthier immune responses -- so they might be worth trying.


How to Prevent a Flare-Up

Seborrheic dermatitis can flare up anywhere at any time and is triggered mainly by:

  • Cold, dry weather

  • Stress

Other things that can cause a flare-up includes:

  • Hormonal changes

  • Harsh soaps and detergents

  • Medicines such as psoralen, interferon, and lithium

What Foods Trigger Seborrheic Dermatitis?

Although there is no particular food or drink that has been identified as a trigger for this skin condition, some studies link certain foods to seborrheic dermatitis. One such study found that a “Western” dietary pattern that mainly consists of meat and processed food (food that has been canned, cooked, frozen, baked, dried, and then packaged) might trigger flare-ups. 

Processed foods include:

  • Cookies

  • Cheese

  • Tofu

  • Bread

  • Ketchup

  • Potato chips


Bottom Line

Seborrheic dermatitis is a lifelong condition that comes and goes. It's best managed with treatment from lotions, to home remedies, to corticosteroids like hydrocortisone, but staying away from certain triggers can help prevent a flare-up. Controlling risk factors and practicing good skincare with great products can lessen the severity of this condition, too.

Check out Topicals today and see the difference that science-backed, dermatologist-approved botanicals can do for your skin. When you’re looking for a funner flare-up, Topicals can help!