Eczema is a chronic, inflammatory skin condition, and it can appear in several different forms, sometimes as blistered skin, leathered skin, and even scaly-looking skin. Perhaps one of the most common types of eczema is seborrheic dermatitis, which typically affects the scalp. In babies seborrheic dermatitis is known as cradle cap. Treatment options for seborrheic dermatitis are many, and most treatment regimens are highly effective.

Overview of Seborrheic Dermatitis

Seborrheic dermatitis often resembles dandruff when it affects the scalp. The key to deciphering the condition from dandruff occurs when the application of regular dandruff shampoos do not provide any relief. This type of eczema can affect other areas of the body including the back, face, eyebrows, lips, eyelids and chest area; however, the scalp is affected more commonly. Seborrheic dermatitis is a benign condition and causes no medical harm. The purpose of treating seborrheic dermatitis is geared towards cosmetic and comfort reasons.

Causes and Risk Factors

Medical research has not been able to determine the true cause of seborrheic dermatitis, but it has pointed to several risk factors that may cause particular patients to be more prone to it. Risk factors include:

  • Excessive stress, which reduces optimal immune system response
  • Seasonal changes. Because of the dry conditions of the winter air, outbreaks of seborrheic dermatitis are much more common during the winter months.
  • Genetic predisposition
  • Excessive oiliness of the skin
  • Irritation from malassezia, a natural yeast that grows within the oily secretions of the skin

Signs and Symptoms

The key to finding relief from seborrheic dermatitis is to recognize the symptoms. This type of eczema is commonly misinterpreted as dandruff. Yet, seborrheic dermatitis does not respond to the same treatments that dandruff does, so it is important that patients be able to identify and suspect the onset of seborrheic dermatitis.

Signs and symptoms include:

  • Skin lesions. On the scalp, skin lesions usually appear as thick, crusted, yellowish-brownish patches. On other areas of the body, the lesions may appear more red and irritated.
  • Persistent itching
  • Flaking of the skin
  • Scaling of the skin

Diagnosis and Treatment

Seborrheic dermatitis is easily mistaken for other skin conditions like ringworm, atopic dermatitis, dandruff and psoriasis. In general, a thorough physical examination and review of the patient’s medical history typically makes the diagnosis of seborrheic dermatitis relatively simple. However, because a host of other skin conditions exist which mimic the symptoms of seborrheic dermatitis, a skin biopsy is sometimes used to identify the particular type of dermatitis and rule out others.

The goal of treating seborrheic dermatitis is for patients to find relief from their symptoms. With no true identifiable cause of seborrheic dermatitis, there is no real cure for the condition. However, medicated shampoos with salicylic acid, ciclopirox, or ketaconazole are highly effective at treating seborrheic dermatitis of the scalp. On other areas of the body, over-the-counter antifungals may be sufficient. If, however, over-the counter medication is ineffective, a prescription corticosteroid may be necessary.