Medically reviewed by Kristin Hall, FNP
Written by Our Editorial Team
Last updated 5/9/2021
If you’ve ever noticed a red, itchy and scaly rash developing on your body or flakes of dandruff falling from your scalp, you may be one of the tens of millions of American adults affected by a common skin disorder called seborrheic dermatitis.
Seborrheic dermatitis is one of the most common skin disorders in the world, with 70 percent of infants and approximately 11.6 percent of the general population affected.
While seborrheic dermatitis doesn’t cause hair loss directly and has no effects on male pattern baldness, it can cause temporary hair loss if you frequently itch your scalp.
Below, we’ve explained what seborrheic dermatitis is and how it develops, as well as the most common symptoms you may experience if you’re affected by this skin disorder.
We’ve also talked about the most effective options for treating seborrheic dermatitis, including medicated shampoos, prescription medications and more.
Seborrheic dermatitis is a common skin disease that can cause a scaly, red-colored, greasy and swollen rash to develop on your skin.
The precise symptoms of seborrheic dermatitis can vary depending on your age. In adolescents and adults, the most common symptoms of seborrheic dermatitis are:
Scaly patches that develop on your skin
Beneath the scale, a red-colored skin rash
Yellow and white-colored flakes that fall from the affected skin
Although skin affected by seborrheic dermatitis becomes scaly and develops into flakes, it may have a greasy, oily appearance. Areas of skin affected by seborrheic dermatitis may burn and feel itchy.
Seborrheic dermatitis tends to develop on oily skin. It’s common on your scalp and around your ears, including inside your ear canal. Other areas of your skin where seborrheic dermatitis may develop include your:
Chest, back and armpits
In children and infants, seborrheic dermatitis is called cradle cap. The most common symptoms of this type of seborrheic dermatitis are:
A greasy rash that affects the scalp
Yellow-brown scale that develops on the skin
Over time, the scale may become dry and flaky, causing it to break off easily when the affected skin is touched or rubbed.
Experts still aren’t fully aware of what causes seborrheic dermatitis. Currently, research into the potential causes of seborrheic dermatitis suggests that factors such as genetics, climate, stress levels and the growth of certain types of yeast on the skin all play a role.
Research also shows that factors such as allergies and hygiene do not appear to play a role in the development of seborrheic dermatitis.
Although seborrheic dermatitis can affect anyone at any time in life, it’s most common in infants three months of age or younger and adults aged between 30 and 60.
You may have a higher risk of developing seborrheic dermatitis if you have a medical condition or use certain types of medication.
Medical conditions that may increase your risk of seborrheic dermatitis include the following:
Skin conditions, such as acne, psoriasis and rosacea
You may also have a higher risk of developing seborrheic dermatitis if you’ve recently suffered and are recovering from a heart attack or stroke.
Some medical conditions can increase your risk of developing severe symptoms of seborrheic dermatitis. For example, people with Parkinson’s disease or HIV are often affected by severe, widespread scaling, skin irritation and other symptoms.
Medications that may increase your risk of developing seborrheic dermatitis include interferon, psoralen and lithium.
When most people think of male hair loss, they think of a specific form of hair loss that’s referred to as male pattern baldness.
This type of hair loss can cause you to lose hair in a specific pattern, such as a receding hairline or baldness around your crown (the area at the top of your scalp).
Hair loss from male pattern baldness is permanent, making it important to respond as quickly as possible if you’re affected.
Currently, there’s no research that suggests that seborrheic dermatitis causes or contributes to male pattern baldness.
However, since seborrheic dermatitis often causes itching, you may experience hair loss if you scratch your scalp too frequently or aggressively.
Excessive scratching can damage your hair follicles — the tiny structures inside your skin from which hairs grow. When these follicles are injured, they may stop producing new hairs, making your scalp look overly thin or causing patchy hair loss.
Seborrheic dermatitis may also cause hair loss by allowing certain types of fungi to multiply on your skin.
Skin that’s affected by seborrheic dermatitis tends to have high levels of sebum — a type of oil that’s produced by your skin. When your skin has an excessive amount of sebum, it allows for fungi and other pathogens to multiply easily.
One common type of fungi, called Malassezia, can grow on your scalp and cause you to shed hair.
Hair loss caused by Malassezia generally isn’t permanent. However, it can have a noticeable impact on your appearance, especially when it’s left untreated.
Although there’s no cure for seborrheic dermatitis, numerous treatments are available that can relieve your symptoms, clear your skin of scale and control your flare-ups.
If you have seborrheic dermatitis, with or without hair loss, it’s best to talk to your primary care provider or schedule an appointment with a dermatologist.
Depending on your symptoms, general health and other factors, they’ll typically suggest one or several of the following treatment options.
Most cases of seborrheic dermatitis can be treated using medicated shampoos designed to get rid of scale, prevent fungal growth and reduce inflammation.
Your healthcare provider may recommend using a shampoo that contains one or several of the following ingredients:
Many medicated shampoos designed to treat seborrheic dermatitis are available from your local drugstore without any need for a prescription.
Make sure to closely follow the instructions provided with your shampoo. Many shampoos need to be used on a daily basis during the start of treatment, after which you may be able to use the shampoo on an as-needed basis to control your symptoms.
If you don’t experience any improvements from medicated shampoos, your healthcare provider may prescribe medication to control your symptoms and clear your skin.
Common medications used to treat seborrheic dermatitis include:
Antifungal creams. You may need to apply an antifungal cream to the affected areas of your skin. These medications work by preventing the growth of fungi that can irritate your skin and contribute to seborrheic dermatitis symptoms.
Several topical antifungal medications are commonly used to treat seborrheic dermatitis, including ketoconazole, itraconazole and bifonazole.
Oral antifungal medications. If you have severe seborrheic dermatitis, or if you don’t experience any improvements from topical antifungal creams, your healthcare provider may prescribe an oral antifungal medication.
Corticosteroid creams.Your healthcare provider may prescribe a topical corticosteroid if you have inflamed skin. These medications work by reducing inflammation and easing symptoms such as itching, redness and discomfort.
Several corticosteroids are used to treat seborrheic dermatitis, including hydrocortisone and beclomethasone dipropionate. These medications can cause side effects, and as such, are typically only prescribed for short-term use.
If you’re prescribed medication to treat seborrheic dermatitis, it’s important to closely follow your healthcare provider’s instructions and take your medication for the entire treatment period, even if you notice an improvement in your symptoms relatively early.
For optimal results, you may need to use a combination of medication and medicated shampoo to control your symptoms and clear your skin of scale.
Hair loss from seborrheic dermatitis is temporary, meaning you should notice your hair gradually growing back once you get your symptoms under control.
To speed up regrowth, you may want to consider using minoxidil. This medication stimulates the growth of your hair and may help to improve regrowth in areas of your scalp with noticeable hair loss.
Research has shown that some men who use minoxidil may experience irritation and worsening of seborrheic dermatitis symptoms.
Because of this, it’s important to make sure you’ve completely treated your seborrheic dermatitis before using minoxidil or any other topical products to stimulate hair growth.
Our guide to minoxidil side effects provides more information on what to be aware of if you use minoxidil as a hair loss treatment.
Although there’s no cure for seborrheic dermatitis, it’s possible to control your symptoms using medicated shampoo, medication or both.
If you experience temporary hair loss from seborrheic dermatitis, the hair you lose should grow back once your symptoms are under control. Minoxidil, a topical hair loss medication, may help to stimulate growth and speed up the hair regrowth process.
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