Conditions & Treatments

Seborrheic Dermatitis

Seborrheic dermatitis is an inflammation of the upper layers of skin, characterized by red, itchy skin that sheds scales.

Seborrheic Dermatitis

What is seborrheic dermatitis?

Seborrheic dermatitis is an inflammation of the upper layers of skin, characterized by red, itchy skin that sheds scales. Seborrheic dermatitis may be a hereditary condition and is often aggravated by hormonal changes and cold weather conditions.

Seborrheic dermatitis is most common during:

  • Infancy. In infants, the condition is also called cradle cap, because of its characteristic scaly appearance on the scalp. However, cradle cap can also occur in the diaper area. Seborrheic dermatitis in this age group usually clears up on its own within the first year.

  • Middle age. When seborrheic dermatitis occurs at this age, the condition is usually more intermittent and called dandruff.

  • Old age. When seborrheic dermatitis occurs at this age, the condition is usually more intermittent. It becomes less common after 60 years of age.

Persons with oily skin or hair are also more at risk for developing seborrheic dermatitis.

What are the symptoms of seborrheic dermatitis?

The following are some of the other symptoms associated with seborrheic dermatitis. However, each person may experience symptoms differently. Symptoms may include:

  • Itching scalp

  • Dry or greasy scales on the scalp

  • A yellow or red scaly rash along the hairline, behind the ears, in the ear canal, on the eyebrows, around the nose, in creases on the arms, legs, or groin, and/or on the chest.

The symptoms of seborrheic dermatitis may resemble other skin conditions. Always consult your doctor for a diagnosis.

How is seborrheic dermatitis diagnosed?

A complete medical history and physical examination helps the doctor in diagnosing seborrheic dermatitis.

Treatment for seborrheic dermatitis

Specific treatment for seborrheic dermatitis will be determined by your doctor based on:

  • Your age, overall health, and medical history

  • Extent of the condition

  • Your tolerance for specific medications, procedures, or therapies

  • Expectations for the course of the condition

  • Your opinion or preference

Although the condition responds to treatment, it may recur. Treatment depends on the inflammation's location and is usually effective in alleviating symptoms. Treatments may include:

  • Corticosteroid cream or lotion

  • Antifungal topicals

  • Medicated shampoo for adults, as prescribed by your doctor

Treatment Programs


Massachusetts General Hospital understands that a variety of factors influence patients' health care decisions. That's just one reason why we're dedicated to ensuring patients understand their diagnosis and treatment options. Because a single option might not serve all patients, we offer a wide range of coordinated treatments and related services across the hospital. Patients should consult with their primary care doctor or other qualified health care provider for medical advice and diagnosis information.

Select a treatment program for more information:



Department of Dermatology

  • The Medical Dermatology Program
    The Medical Dermatology program at Massachusetts General Hospital is a full-service dermatology practice that provides care for all skin, hair and nail conditions.

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