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What is seborrheic dermatitis?

Seborrheic dermatitis is a common inflammatory condition of the skin. Cradle cap is a type of seborrheic dermatitis found in infants; it is usually self-limiting and subsides by the age of six months. Seborrheic dermatitis is a chronic, recurring scaly rash involving the face, ears, eyebrows, scalp, and sometimes the chest. It occurs more frequently as people get older.

The exact cause is not known. It may be different in babies and adults. Seborrheic dermatitis may be related to hormones, because the problem often starts in infancy and goes away before puberty. Or the cause might be a fungus, called Pityrosporum ovale . This organism is normally present on the skin in small numbers, but sometimes its numbers increase, resulting in skin problems. The most popular theory is that it is caused by a sensitivity to yeast on the skin, although research data is inconclusive; however, people with the condition often respond to antifungal medications.

The most commonly affected areas of the body — the scalp (particularly in infants), mid-face, ears, chest, and groin — become red and inflamed and have a greasy, waxy scale. There can be periods of intense redness and inflammation, especially along the eyebrows and cheeks, followed by periods of relative quiescence. Infants have diffuse, thick, waxy scale on the scalp, a condition called cradle cap, that is not itchy.

There is no known cure for seborrheic dermatitis; treatment, therefore, is directed toward symptom management and controlling the frequency of eruptions. For infants with cradle cap, warm olive oil applied to the scalp and gently rubbed in will loosen the scales, and mild corticosteroid preparations can minimize inflammation. Shampoos with zinc or ketoconazole also can help. It is recommended that affected adults shampoo daily with an antidandruff shampoo, using zinc, tar, ketoconazole, or salicylic acid shampoos. Antifungal creams offer a good nonsteroidal approach. For inflamed areas, mild hydrocortisone creams (0.5% to 1.0%), available over the counter, can be added. Corticosteroid creams can be used temporarily in the ears as well. Long-term use of these products is discouraged, however, because they cause side effects, such as breaking out in acne-like lesions and thinning of the skin. Also, the skin becomes accustomed to the steroid and an intense flare may occur when the medication is stopped. Aloe vera gel can be as effective as a mild cortisone cream, without the potential side effects.

Frequent shampooing, bathing, and regular use of antifungal creams can minimize the intensity and frequency of future flare-ups. Frequency and intensity of flares also can be minimized by nutritional supplements of essential fatty acids as well as MSM (methylsulfonylmethane).

More information on dermatitis

What is dermatitis? - Dermatitis, also known as eczema, is a skin irritation characterized by red, flaky skin, sometimes with cracks or tiny blisters.
Types of dermatitis - There are several different types of dermatitis and these have different causes. The most common ones are related to allergies.
Contact dermatitis - Contact dermatitis is a dermatitis which is caused by something in the outside world which comes into contact with the skin.
Atopic dermatitis - Atopic dermatitis is a chronic, itchy skin condition that is very common in children but may occur at any age. It is also known as eczema and atopic eczema.
Seborrheic dermatitis - Seborrheic dermatitis is a common inflammatory condition of the skin. Seborrheic dermatitis is a chronic, recurring scaly rash involving the face, ears, eyebrows, scalp, and the chest.
Nummular dermatitis - Nummular dermatitis (nummular eczematous dermatitis or nummular eczema) affects the hands, arms, legs, and buttocks of men and women older than 55 years of age.
Causes of dermatitis - Each type of dermatitis has different causes. Atopic dermatitis is caused by allergies, asthma. Seborrheic dermatitis is caused by overproduction of the oil glands.
Treatments of dermatitis - Dermatitis is often treated with prescribed cortisone creams and lotions. Treating contact dermatitis begins with eliminating or avoiding the source of irritation.
Prevention of dermatitis - The most effective method of dealing with any type of dermatitis risk is through prevention. Contact dermatitis can be prevented by avoiding the source of irritation. 
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All information is intended for reference only. Please consult your physician for accurate medical advices and treatment. Copyright 2005, health-cares.net, all rights reserved. Last update: July 18, 2005