Seborrheic (seb-o-REE-ik) dermatitis is a common skin disorder that mainly affects the scalp which causes scaly, itchy, red skin and stubborn dandruff. Seborrheic dermatitis in infants, also called cradle cap, is a harmless temporary condition. It appears as thick crusty yellow or brown scales over the child's scalp. Cradle cap may be seen in newborns and small children up to age three.
Seborrheic dermatitis can occur on many different body areas. Typically it forms where the skin is oily or greasy. Commonly affected areas include the scalp, eyebrows, eyelids, creases of the nose, lips, behind the ears, in the external ear and along skin folds on the middle of the body.
Seborrheic dermatitis isn't harmful but it can be uncomfortable and unsightly. You may be able to treat seborrheic dermatitis yourself by recognizing its signs and symptoms and by using a combination of self-care steps and over-the-counter (nonprescription) medications.
Cradle cap is not contagious, nor is it caused by poor hygiene. It is not an allergy and it is not dangerous. Cradle cap may or may not itch. Cradle cap usually clears up on its own within a few months. If it itches, excessive scratching of the area may cause additional inflammation and breaks in skin may cause mild infections or bleeding.
In general, symptoms of seborrheic dermatitis include skin lesions, plaques over large area, greasy, oily areas of skin, skin scales (white and flaking, or yellowish, oily, and adherent dandruff), itching-may become more itchy if infected, mild redness and hair loss
You can treat flaking and dryness with over-the-counter dandruff or medicated shampoos. Shampoo the hair vigorously and frequently (preferably daily). Loosen scales with the fingers, scrub for at least five minutes, and rinse thoroughly. Active ingredients in these shampoos include salicylic acid, coal tar, zinc, resorcin, ketoconazole, or selenium.
Shampoos or lotions containing selenium, ketoconazole, or corticosteroids may be prescribed for severe cases. To apply shampoos, part the hair into small sections, apply to a small area at a time, and massage into the skin. If on face or chest, apply medicated lotion twice per day.
For infants with cradle cap:
• Massage your baby's scalp gently with your fingers or a soft brush to loosen the scales and improve scalp circulation.
• Give your child daily, gentle shampoos with a mild soap while scales are present. After scales have disappeared, you may reduce shampoos to twice weekly.
• Be sure to rinse off all soap.
• Brush your child's hair with a clean, soft brush after each shampoo and several times during the day.
• If scales do not easily loosen and wash off, apply some mineral oil to the baby's scalp and wrap warm, wet cloths around their head for up to an hour before shampooing. Then, shampoo as directed above. Remember that your baby loses a lot of heat through his scalp. If you use warm, wet cloths with the mineral oil, check frequently to be sure that the cloths have not become cold. Cold, wet cloths could drastically reduce your baby's temperature.
• If the scales continue to be a problem or concern, or if you child seems uncomfortable or scratches his scalp, contact your physician. He may prescribe a cream or lotion to apply to your baby's scalp several times a day.
Seborrheic dermatitis is thought to be due to a combination of an over production of skin oil and irritation from a yeast called malessizia.
Seborrheic dermatitis appears to run in families. Stress, fatigue, weather extremes, oily skin, infrequent shampoos or skin cleaning, use of lotions that contain alcohol, skin disorders (such as acne), or obesity may increase the risk.
Neurologic conditions, including Parkinson's disease, head injury, and stroke may be associated with seborrheic dermatitis. Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) has also been linked to increased cases of seborrheic dermatitis.
The diagnosis is based on the appearance and location of the skin lesions.
Seborrheic dermatitis is a chronic (life-long) condition that can be controlled with treatment. It often has extended inactive periods followed by flare-ups. Seborrheic dermatitis may improve in the summer, especially after outdoor activities.
The severity of seborrheic dermatitis can be lessened by controlling the risk factors and by paying careful attention to skin care.
Call for an appointment with your health care provider if seborrheic dermatitis symptoms do not respond to self-care or over-the-counter treatments. Also call if patches of seborrheic dermatitis drain fluid or pus, form crusts, or become very red or painful.
MC Ortega is the former publicist for the late Walter Payton, Coca-Cola and Dunkin’ Donuts. Ortega is a senior communications and messaging executive specializing in media relations, social media, program development and crisis communications. Also, Ortega is an avid traveler and international shopper. Ortega resides with her partner, Craig, dog, Fionne and extensive shoe collection. Ortega also enjoys jewelry design/production and flamenco dancing.