Seborrheic Dermatitis (Seborrhea)


What Is It?

Seborrheic dermatitis, commonly called seborrhea, is a form of skin inflammation (dermatitis) that usually is classified as a type of eczema. Seborrhea is an excess production of oil or sebum by the skin’s oil-producing sebaceous glands. When skin inflammation occurs with redness and flaking, it is called seborrhea. It is usually found in areas of the body where sebaceous glands are most abundant (scalp, face and groin). In adults and adolescents, it appears as flaking over patches of itchy, red skin. In infants, it primarily affects the scalp, where it is called cradle cap.

Although doctors recognize that seborrhea occurs in skin areas that have many sebaceous glands, they still do not know exactly why it develops there. Seborrhea is a common skin disorder that affects people who have no other health problems.


In infants, seborrhea appears as a scaly redness that usually is not itchy or uncomfortable. In some babies, it only affects the scalp (cradle cap), but in others it also involves the neck creases, armpits or groin.

In adults and adolescents, seborrhea may only affect the scalp, appearing as either patchy or diffuse areas of redness and flaking. Other skin areas commonly affected include the eyebrows, eyelids, forehead, nose creases, outer ear, chest, underarms, groin, skin creases under the breasts or skin between the buttocks. Although some adults and adolescents feel an itchy or burning irritation in areas of seborrhea, others have no discomfort. In some people, seborrhea flare-ups are triggered by stress.


Your doctor usually can diagnose seborrhea by a simple physical examination.

Expected Duration

In infants, seborrhea typically is worst during the first year of life. It usually disappears on its own as the child grows, and it may return during the teen-age years. In adults and adolescents, seborrhea tends to be a chronic condition that waxes and wanes over many years.


Since doctors do not know what causes seborrhea, there is no way to prevent it. However, frequent shampooing with an anti-seborrhea shampoo can often control scalp symptoms.


If you have an infant with cradle cap, your doctor may suggest applying baby-oil to soften the scale, followed by shampooing with a mild baby shampoo to gently remove the scale. If this doesn’t help, your doctor may recommend an anti-seborrhea shampoo. For skin areas outside the scalp, your doctor may prescribe hydrocortisone or an anti-yeast cream, because yeast sometimes can trigger seborrhea.

If you are an adult with scalp seborrhea, your doctor may suggest a shampoo containing coal tar, selenium sulfide or zinc pyrithione. Brand names include Selsun Blue, Exelderm, Head & Shoulders, Zincon, and DHS zinc. Topical corticosteroids and ketoconazole shampoos may also be prescribed. For other skin areas, hydrocortisone or anti-yeast cream can be rubbed directly into seborrhea patches.

When To Call A Professional

Call your doctor if you have not been successful in controlling your seborrhea with shampoos and creams. Remember, the goal is control. There is no cure.


Cradle cap typically disappears on its own as the child grows. Other forms of seborrhea usually respond to treatment with shampoos and medication.

Johns Hopkins patient information

Last revised:

Diseases and Conditions Center

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All ArmMed Media material is provided for information only and is neither advice nor a substitute for proper medical care. Consult a qualified healthcare professional who understands your particular history for individual concerns.