What Causes Seborrhoeic Dermatitis and How to Treat It ?


Learn about the causes and symptoms of seborrhoeic dermatitis and ways to manage it with our expert’s tips and advice.

1. What is seborrhoeic dermatitis?
2. Causes of seborrhoeic dermatitis
3. Seborrhoeic dermatitis symptoms
4. Difference between dandruff and seborrhoeic dermatitis
5. Seborrhoeic dermatitis treatment

Dandruff is a universal hair care issue, but thankfully, it can be treated using the right hair products. However, there are instances when the pesky flakes refuse to budge. The itching becomes worse, and soon you notice scales on your scalp. What you initially thought was dandruff turns out to be something much severe than that? The condition is known as seborrhoeic dermatitis. People often confuse seborrhoeic dermatitis with dandruff, which is why we are here to help you understand the difference between the two conditions.

Let’s begin with seborrhoeic dermatitis and its causes as it will help you understand your scalp condition better, and opt for an appropriate treatment.

What is seborrhoeic dermatitis?

Seborrhoeic dermatitis is a skin condition that primarily affects the scalp but can also occur on other parts of the body that produce more sebaceous (oil-producing) glands, such as the sides of your nose, face, eyebrows, ears, eyelids, and chest. It is characterised by the occurrence of itchy rashes with flaky scales and redness on lighter skin, and light patches on darker skin. This scalp condition can affect people across all age groups - be it an infant or an adult aged between 30 and 60. In infants, it is called cradle cap and disappears without any treatment. However, in adults, seborrhoeic dermatitis can occur in the form of occasional flare-ups that can be controlled but do not go away completely.

Causes of seborrhoeic dermatitis

Typically, seborrhoeic dermatitis occurs as a reaction to an otherwise harmless yeast, Malassezia globosa, which lives on the scalp. An overgrowth of Malassezia globosa can cause the immune system to go into overdrive, and trigger an inflammatory response that eventually results in skin changes. Other factors that can cause seborrhoeic dermatitis include:

• Hormonal changes
• Stress
• A genetic predisposition to this condition
• Cold, dry weather
• Certain medical conditions like psoriasis, acne, or Parkinson’s disease
• Some medications, such as lithium, psoralen, and interferon.

Seborrhoeic dermatitis symptoms

Identifying the following symptoms can help you seek timely seborrhoeic dermatitis treatment:

• Red skin
• Itching
• Appearance of skin flakes and crusts on the scalp, hair, eyebrows, ears, face, chest, armpits, beard, moustache, or sides of the nose.
• Skin becomes greasy and covered with flaky white or yellow scales.

Difference between dandruff and seborrhoeic dermatitis

Dandruff is the first thing that comes to our minds whenever there’s a persistent itch in the scalp, or you see white flakes making themselves comfortable on your hair strands. But there are instances where despite using anti-dandruff shampoos or spot-on treatments, these white flakes remain in your hair. And as the condition worsens, you realise that flakes are not the only thing in store for you. This is not regular dandruff; it’s seborrhoeic dermatitis.

• Dandruff causes itchy, white flakes on the scalp that come off easily when you gently scratch the scalp. Plus, it doesn’t cause any kind of inflammation. Seborrhoeic dermatitis, on the other hand, causes the scalp to become red and inflamed, and the flakes tend to be slightly yellow, and stubbornly stick to your scalp.

• Another difference between dandruff and seborrhoeic dermatitis are the areas they affect. While the former occurs only the scalp, the latter affects other parts of the body as well.

• While dandruff flakes are very fine and wispy, seborrhoeic dermatitis causes a great deal of scaling not just on the scalp, but all the other areas it affects.

Seborrhoeic dermatitis treatment

Considering the factors these two conditions share, it’s often difficult to identify a seborrhoeic dermatitis scalp. So, what do we do now? Since it’s easy to confuse seborrhoeic dermatitis for dandruff, the first step would be to deal with the latter. Try Head & Shoulders Anti-Dandruff Shampoos as they offer up to 100% dandruff protection*. You can also try Head & Shoulders Clinically Proven Solutions Anti-Dandruff Shampoo that contains selenium sulphide and targets the root cause of dandruff.

Apart from the seborrhoeic dermatitis scalp treatment, you should also make certain lifestyle changes to help control the condition.

• A scalp affected by seborrhoeic dermatitis tends to be sensitive. So, avoid using styling products like hair sprays, gels, wax, etc. as they can cause flare-ups.

• To avoid these flare-ups, ensure that your hair is clean. If there’s any residue left behind on the scalp, it can trigger itching and cause redness.

• You can apply mineral oil or olive oil to your scalp to soften the scales caused by seborrhoeic dermatitis. Massage the oil onto your scalp and leave it on for an hour. Now, gently comb or brush your hair and wash it to remove the scales.

Seborrhoeic dermatitis is a chronic condition but it doesn’t have to be the cause of constant worry. With the help of the right hair products and some mindful lifestyle changes, you can bring it under control. Despite your efforts, if the flare-ups continue to occur, it’s advisable to consult a dermatologist right away.

(*visible flakes, with regular use)