Seborrheic eczema is a very common skin condition. It is also known as seborrheic dermatitis. When infants develop this condition, it is known as cradle cap.
Seborrheic eczema is thought to have two chief causes. The first is overproduction of oil by the skin. The second is a yeast known as malassezia. It is found naturally in the skin’s oils and is believed to act as an irritant to those with the condition.
Although there is no cure, learning to recognize and eliminate triggers and developing a good skin care routine can help you manage the condition.
Seborrheic eczema tends to develop in oily areas of the body. According to the Mayo Clinic, it most often affects the scalp (Mayo). Other commonly affected areas are:
- in and around the ears
- the eyebrows
- the nose area
- the back
- the upper portion of the chest
Seborrheic eczema has a characteristic appearance and set of symptoms.
- Skin develops scaly patches that flake off. The patches may be white or yellowish in color. This problem is commonly known as dandruff.
- Affected areas tend to be greasy and oily.
- Skin in the affected area may be red.
- Skin in the affected area may be itchy.
- Hair loss may occur in the affected area.
Doctors are not sure why some people develop seborrheic eczema, while others do not. It does appear that your risk of developing it increases if one or more close family members also have the condition.
Other factors thought to increase risk include:
- environmental factors (such as the weather)
- poor skin care
- the presence of other skin issues (such as acne)
- use of certain skin care products (in particular those with alcohol)
Finally, certain serious medical conditions may make it more likely that you will develop the skin condition. If you have had a stroke, suffer from HIV or Parkinson’s, or have sustained a head injury, you may have a greater likelihood of having seborrheic eczema.
The good news is that the condition does not lead to significant health problems. However, suffering from this condition may be embarrassing. This is likely in part because of the misunderstandings about seborrheic eczema.
For instance, many people fear they can “catch” it or believe the person affected does not have good hygiene. There are various measures that can make the skin issue less noticeable. This may help you feel less self-conscious.
Dandruff shampoos are frequently used to treat seborrheic eczema on the scalp. You will usually need to use the product daily for optimal results. Follow all usage instructions on the bottle exactly. According to the Mayo Clinic, alternating between shampoos with different active ingredients may help if it seems like one stops working as well over time (Mayo).
Addition skin care measures that may help you manage this kind of eczema include:
- using over-the-counter antifungal and anti-itch creams
- using hypoallergenic soap and detergent
- thoroughly rinsing soap and shampoo off your skin and scalp
- shaving off your mustache or beard. Sometimes this eases symptoms.
- wearing cotton clothing that is breathable and lets air reach your skin
- wearing nontextured clothing to avoid irritating your skin
For infants with cradle cap, try the following daily routine:
- Loosen scales by massaging your baby’s scalp or using a soft-bristled brush.
- Wash your baby’s hair with a mild shampoo.
- Rinse hair and scalp thoroughly.
- Brush your baby’s hair with a clean, soft-bristled brush.
If it is difficult to loosen and wash off scales, massage your baby’s scalp with mineral or olive oil before shampooing.
Your child’s doctor may recommend medicated shampoo or lotion for severe or persistent cradle cap.
Not all cases of seborrheic eczema can be managed solely through the use of over-the-counter dandruff shampoos. Oral medications, prescription shampoos, and medicinal creams and gels for the scalp and other areas of the body can be used for severe symptoms and more serious cases.
In general, a visit to the physician may be needed if:
- you are not getting relief from a regular dandruff shampoo
- you have areas that are extremely red
- you have areas that are very painful
- you have areas that are producing pus, draining fluid, or crusting
- you are experiencing significant discomfort and believe medical intervention may be needed
People who have seborrheic eczema will deal with it on some level for the rest of their lives. You may go through extended periods where there are little to no symptoms. You will also likely experience “flare-ups,” when symptoms become more severe.
Over time, though, many people who have seborrheic eczema will figure out a skin care routine (possibly combined with medications) that works for them and minimizes the impact the condition has on their day-to-day lives.
Cradle cap usually goes away on its own in a few months.