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Seborrheic Dermatitis

Dr Karen Martin
Reviewed by Dr Karen MartinReviewed on 19.10.2023 | 2 minutes read
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This is a rash where the skin becomes inflamed, appearing on greasy areas with lots of sebaceous glands - on the cheeks, between eyebrows, the folds next to the nose and the chin, and also on the chest or scalp.

Red, greasy, scaly, or flaky patches are common, and little red bumps known as papules may appear. It can cause a mild itch, but the appearance prompts most sufferers to seek treatment.

It is considered a type of eczema but can also overlap with psoriasis and rosacea. Stress, tiredness, and cold weather can prompt flare-ups in those susceptible. An overgrowth of a usually harmless yeast (scientific name: Malassezia) is thought to be part of the cause, so treatment focuses on eradicating this and reducing inflammation using a combined antifungal and mild steroid cream.

Doctor’s advice

Is it contagious?

No, this is not contagious to others.

Healthwords pharmacists' top tips

The mainstays of treatment available at the pharmacy for seborrheic dermatitis are moisturizers to reduce the dry, flaky patches. Treating the scalp and hairy areas is best using an oil or liquid-based treatment rather than a cream, as it is easier to apply.

Coconut oil is a fantastic moisturizer with mild antifungal properties because it contains caprylic acid. Applying it 2 - 3 times a week to the scalp or an hour before bathing will help to ensure a healthy environment for the scalp with regards to pH levels and moisture.

Some shampoos include Selsun (containing selenium sulfide), which is effective in adults, or coal tar-based DHS, which contains an anti-scaling agent in the form of coal tar extract. For children suffering from cradle cap or those with sensitive skin, Dentinox cradle cap shampoo is a milder alternative.

Am I fit for work?

You are likely to be fit for work.

When should I see my doctor?

You can buy treatments from your pharmacy if you are sure of the diagnosis; it is worth trying these before seeing your doctor. Depending on your symptoms and if they are bothersome, you can request this as a routine or urgent appointment.

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This article has been written by UK-based doctors and pharmacists, so some advice may not apply to US users and some suggested treatments may not be available. For more information, please see our T&Cs.
Dr Karen Martin
Reviewed by Dr Karen Martin
Reviewed on 19.10.2023
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