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Dandruff (Seborrheic Dermatitis) – Seborrheic Dermatitis Symptoms and What causes it?

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What is Dandruff & What causes seborrheic dermatitis?

causes and symptoms of Seborrheic Dermatitis

Seborrheic dermatitis(SD) and dandruff (Pityriasis sicca) are common dermatological problems that usually affect the seborrheic areas of the body. They differ in severity and site of involvement. In this article, you will get to know about seborrheic dermatitis symptoms and what causes seborrheic dermatitis?

Dandruff is usually restricted to the scalp and is characterized by itching, flaking skin without any sign of inflammation (redness).

Whereas Seborrheic dermatitis involves the scalp, central face, retro-auricular area (behind the ear), and the upper chest characterized by itching, flaking, and inflammation (redness). Seborrheic dermatitis may be associated with psoriasis and is called sebopsoriasis.

What Causes Seborrheic Dermatitis?

The cause of seborrheic dermatitis and dandruff is not well understood.

The possible factors are Malassezia fungus, individual immune response, and genetic role to an extent.

What causes Seborrheic Dermatitis and Seborrheic Dermatitis symptoms

The increase in lipase results in hydrolyzes of sebum into fatty acid which results in penetrating the skin causing hyperproliferation (flakes) and inflammation.

Risk factors Of Seborrheic Dermatitis (Dandruff)

• Oily skin


• Emotional stress

• Alcoholism

• Neural diseases like Parkinson’s disease or facial palsy

• Medications

Seborrheic Dermatitis Symptoms & Signs

Below are the Seborrheic Dermatitis Symptoms & signs and It is more common in males.

Seborrheic Dermatitis Symptoms


White to yellow colored flakes over the scalp without any redness.Cradle cap is yellowish greasy scales over the scalp, most commonly occurring within 3 months of age.Scales attached to the scalp which may lead to alopecia (loss of hair).It usually presents as a severe and extensive form of SD which is usually doesn’t respond well to treatment.
Itching is absentYellowish white flakes along with redness over the forehead, eyebrows, eyelids, nasolabial and behind the earsRedness with mild scaling may be seen on forehead, eyebrows, nasolabial fold, and may spread to the cheeks. May also present in the form of acne.
Can rarely spread to the hairline, eyebrows, and behind ears.Folds like the neck, underarms, and inguinal region may be moist and shiny.Crusting, fissures may be seen behind the ear which may extend to the external canal presenting with intense itching.
Leiner’s disease is a generalized form of SD along with diarrhea and failure to thrive.It may even spread to the chest area as tiny acne-like eruptions.

Aggravating factors

• Winter

• Dry

• Sweating

Seborrheic Dermatitis Complications

After the Seborrheic Dermatitis Symptoms you should also know about its complications.

• If left untreated may result in secondary bacterial infection.

• The second most common complications occur due to the topical treatment especially the over counter drugs and corticosteroids. In adults, seborrheic dermatitis is a chronic condition hence to reduce the irritation and inflammation low dose steroids for a long term result in thinning of skin along with telangiectasis (broken blood vessels). Therefore steroid-sparing agents like tacrolimus or pimecrolimus along with anti-fungals are preferred by most of the dermatologists.


Read MoreRisk Factors And Covid-19 Prevention Explained [Infographic]



If you are facing any Seborrheic Dermatitis Symptoms then this diagnosis will help you to cure it. Dandruff is basically a skin problem, which affects all parts of your body, especially your scalp. You can easily identify the dandruff with its typical symptoms such as flaking of the skin, itching and sometimes inflammation. The details of how to diagnose the dandruff are given in the diagnosis section given below.


The treatment of dandruff consists of topical therapy and systemic therapy. In topical therapy the treatment involves shampoo, gel and cream etc, and in systemic therapy you are given medications for the treatment of dandruff. Both these therapies should be applied as per the advise of the doctor.

Dandruff can also be treated with home remedies. There are multiple home remedies available on our website for the treatment of dandruff.

Research done for this article:

1. Borda LJ, Wikramanayake TC. Seborrheic Dermatitis and Dandruff: A Comprehensive Review. J Clin Investig Dermatol. 2015;3(2):10.13188/2373-1044.1000019. doi:10.13188/2373-1044.1000019

2. Gary G. Optimizing treatment approaches in seborrheic dermatitis. J Clin Aesthet Dermatol. 2013;6(2):44–49.

Dr Rupika

Dr. Rupika Singh

MBBS, MD Dermatology
Fellow in Dermatology Laser Surgery


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