Seborrheic Dermatitis: Care Instructions

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Seborrheic dermatitis (say "seh-buh-REE-ick der-muh-TY-tus") is a rash with greasy, flaky skin patches. The patches can look whitish. With lighter skin, the skin under the patches can look reddish. With darker skin, the skin can also look darker or lighter than the usual skin color.

The rash may appear on many parts of the body. It may be on the scalp, face (especially the eyebrow area and near the nose and mouth), ears, underarms, or genital area or under the breasts. The flaky skin on the scalp is called dandruff.

This rash is often a long-term (chronic) condition, with symptoms that come and go. It may get worse with cold, dry weather or stress. Treatments include antifungal shampoos and medicines that are put on the skin.

What causes this isn't fully understood. It may involve the oil glands in skin. A type of skin fungus, or yeast, may also be linked with this condition.

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.

How can you care for yourself at home?

  • Be safe with medicines. If your doctor prescribes a skin cream, shampoo, or other medicine, use it as directed. Read and follow all instructions on the label.
  • If your scalp is affected and your doctor hasn't prescribed a dandruff shampoo, use an over-the-counter dandruff shampoo. You may need to try a few kinds of shampoo to find the one that works best for you.
  • Leave dandruff shampoo on your hair for 5 minutes before you rinse it off.
  • Ask your doctor how often to shampoo your hair. When you wash your hair, it might help to put the dandruff shampoo on your face and other affected areas.
  • If you have a beard or mustache, use dandruff shampoo on these areas. You might also consider shaving. Keeping the skin free of hair may reduce symptoms.
  • Don't use skin or hair products that contain olive oil.
  • Avoid putting pomades and oils on your scalp. If you use them, apply them to the hair shaft instead.
  • Try to identify and avoid things that make your symptoms worse. Examples include stress and cold, dry weather.
  • Ask your doctor about using the treatment after the rash has improved but using it less often. This may help keep the rash from coming back.

When should you call for help?

Call your doctor now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • You have signs of infection, such as:
    • Increased pain, swelling, warmth, or redness.
    • Red streaks leading from the rash.
    • Pus draining from the rash.
    • A fever.

Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor if:

  • The rash gets worse or spreads to other parts of your body.
  • You do not get better as expected.

Where can you learn more?

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The Health Encyclopedia contains general health information. Not all treatments or services described are covered benefits for Kaiser Permanente members or offered as services by Kaiser Permanente. For a list of covered benefits, please refer to your Evidence of Coverage or Summary Plan Description. For recommended treatments, please consult with your health care provider.