Seborrhea, which is also called seborrheic dermatitis, is a common chronic skin disorder in which oily areas of the scalp, face, and chest start to flake. Other areas, such as the skin folds under the arms, breasts, groin, buttocks, and navel, may also be affected by this form of eczema.

Seborrhea can occur at any age but is common in the first three months of life, when it appears on the scalp as cradle cap. It then can reoccur between the ages of 30 and 60. Some people appear to be born with a tendency for seborrhea and are affected on and off by it throughout life, although regular treatment can help keep it under control. The condition is more common among men than women.

Symptoms of Seborrhea

  • Redness and oily dandruff-like scaling around affected areas—typically the scalp, eyebrows, creases from the sides of the nose to the mouth, skin behind the ears, and the chest.
  • Mild itching (rare)
  • Hair loss (rare)

What Causes Seborrhea?

No one is certain what causes seborrhea. Some researchers think it may be linked to a yeast that grows in oily, hairy areas of the body, or caused by hormones, which would explain why it appears at birth and disappears before puberty. Seborrhea in infants may actually be a separate disorder from the ailment that afflicts adults.

Seborrhea is also common in people taking antibiotics and in those recovering from stressful cardiac episodes. People with suppressed immune systems (such as those with HIV infection) and those confined for long periods to hospitals or nursing homes are also at higher risk.

What If You Do Nothing?

Seborrhea may subside without any treatment, although it usually shows a temporary improvement with medication. If the rash is a cosmetic problem, or if itching becomes a nuisance, it should be treated.

Home Remedies for Seborrhea

Several over-the-counter remedies are often successful at alleviating seborrhea.

  • Hydrocortisone. This is one of the more effective treatments. Apply low-strength (1 percent) hydrocortisone cream to the affected areas of skin until the condition clears up.
  • Dandruff shampoo. Seborrheic dermatitis of the scalp (dandruff ) can be treated with frequent use of nonprescription shampoos containing one of the following ingredients: selenium sulfide, coal tar, zinc pyrithione, salicylic acid, or ketoconazole (the latter is an antifungal shampoo sold under the brand name Nizoral). Follow label directions.
  • Observe proper hygiene. Always take a bath and use a medicated soap if needed. Cleansing with soap removes oils and helps to heal seborrhea.
  • Though you may be inclined to try the following to improve your symptoms, know that these efforts will have no effect: Switching brands of shampoo, changing hair care routines, using moisturizing lotion, switching antiperspirants


No way has been established to prevent the development or recurrence of seborrhea.

Beyond Home Remedies: When To Call Your Doctor

If self-care measures don’t work, or if your condition worsens, contact your physician.

What Your Doctor Will Do

The diagnosis of seborrhea is usually obvious. If nonprescription hydrocortisone isn’t strong enough, your doctor may prescribe stronger topical prescription medications or shampoos.


The Complete Home Wellness Handbook

John Edward Swartzberg, M.D., F.A.C.P., Sheldon Margen, M.D., and the editors of the UC Berkeley Wellness Letter

Updated by Remedy Health Media

Publication Review By: the Editorial Staff at

Published: 14 Nov 2011

Last Modified: 02 Dec 2014