What is Seborrheic Eczema?

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  • Written By: C. Ausbrooks
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 22 September 2018
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An inflammatory skin disorder, seborrheic eczema typically affects oily areas of the skin. The scalp, eyebrows, nose, inside of the ear and areas between the folds of skin on the torso are commonly affected. The condition causes itchy, flaky white to yellow scales on the skin, and sometimes redness.

The causes of seborrheic eczema are unknown, but some doctors believe it can be genetic. Environmental factors, hormones and overactive oil glands in the skin have also been implicated. Stress and fatigue, exposure to extreme weather, improper hygiene and obesity may increase the risk for developing the condition.

In infants, seborrheic eczema of the scalp is common and is usually known as "cradle cap." Thick, yellow scales appear over the infant's scalp, but the condition is not dangerous. Itching may or may not be present, but excessive scratching of the scalp could cause inflammation or bleeding. Cradle cap is seen in children up to three years of age, but it is temporary and will eventually subside.


Symptoms of adult seborrheic eczema include dandruff and skin scales, oily or greasy patches of skin, itching, mild redness, and hair loss if the scalp is affected. In severe cases, permanent hair loss may occur, but only if outbreaks are untreated for extended periods of time. A diagnosis is made by a doctor after a physical examination. The physician will consider the location and appearance of the scales or lesions to determine if an individual has seborrheic eczema or another type of skin disorder.

The most common treatment for sebhorrheic eczema is dermatologist-recommended shampoo or cleanser containing coal tar, salicylic acid or zinc pyrithione. These shampoos and cleansers are available without a prescription, but a dermatologist should always be consulted to find out which product is best for the individual case. For severe cases, prescription shampoos containing selenium or corticosteroids may be administered.

Infants with cradle cap can be treated at home unless an infection occurs. In most cases, massaging the child's scalp and shampooing daily will loosen scales and improve circulation. Another common home treatment for infantile seborrheic eczema is the application of mineral oil to the affected area. The oil is warmed, applied to the scalp, and then the child's head is wrapped in warm cloths. After being left in place for 30 minutes to an hour, the cloths are removed and the head is shampooed.

In adults, seborrheic eczema is usually a chronic condition that lasts for years, or even the individual's entire life. While there is no cure, the symptoms can be managed. Most people experience long periods of time between outbreaks. A doctor should be consulted immediately if scales become very painful, as this could be an indication of infection.



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