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Seborrheic Dermatitis

Seborrheic dermatitis is a disease often associated with increased sebum production (seborrhea) of the scalp and the sebaceous follicle-rich areas of the face and trunk. Sebum is an oily, waxy secretion produced in the skin. The affected skin is covered with yellow-brown scales and crusts. It also can become pink and swollen. Infants may get the disease, although it is more common and severe in adults.

What causes seborrheic dermatitis?

No specific cause has been attributed to the development of seborrheic dermatitis. This disease is often associated with oily-looking skin. Bacteria and yeasts have also been isolated in the affected areas. Still other factors may also contribute to the development of seborrheic dermatitis. These include sensitivity to certain drugs, neurologic abnormalities, physical defects, nutrition disorders and immune deficiencies.

How is seborrheic dermatitis identified?

This disease is often observed initially as discoloration of the skin. Affected skin appears as gray-white or yellow-red with prominent skin pore openings. Scaling may also be seen at the start. In infants, this disease occurs within the first months of life with the appearance of greasy scales and crusts on the scalp, face, chest and neck. They usually disappear within a few months. In adults, however, this condition may last for years.

How is seborrheic dermatitis treated?

The goals of treatment in seborrheic dermatitis are to:

  • Remove the scales and crusts
  • Prevent infection
  • Decrease inflammation
  • Control itching

Scales and crusts may be removed using 3 percent to 5 percent salicylic acid in olive oil or a water-soluble base. Topical antifungals or a shampoo with antifungal properties for the scalp are needed to prevent or treat infection. Topical steroids like 1 percent hydrocortisone decrease inflammation and control itching. In addition, proper skin care with emollients and creams will help.

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