Seborrhoeic dermatitis is a chronic skin condition, and is considered a more severe inflammatory variant of dandruff. The word ‘seborrhoeic’ refers to any skin condition stemming from excess oil production in the sebaceous glands, while ‘dermatitis’ is a general term used to describe skin irritation. Seborrhoeic dermatitis affects the sebaceous areas of the body. This includes the face, nose, eyebrows, eyelids, ears and chest, but most commonly the scalp. It’s thought to be relatively common, affecting around 5% of people.

What Causes Seborrhoeic Dermatitis?

Though there is no definitive cause for the condition, the naturally-occurring fungus malassezia is believed to be a contributing factor. Research indicates other key factors, such as a skin barrier defect or a change in sebum production, may also play a role. Certain medical conditions have been linked to the likelihood of seborrhoeic dermatitis developing, including HIV, Parkinson’s Disease and depression.


Symptoms & Diagnosis

Seborrhoeic dermatitis appears as red, oily patches of skin covered with white or yellow scales. In some cases, this is accompanied by itching.

Symptoms may be triggered to flare up by internal factors, like hormonal changes and illness, or external factors, such as chemicals, soaps and the weather.

A doctor or dermatologist may diagnose the condition through examining the affected area of skin, or less commonly, a skin sample may be taken. Seborrhoeic dermatitis can sometimes mimic other skin conditions, for example ringworm or psoriasis, so if you are experiencing symptoms and are unsure what’s causing them, speak to a healthcare professional for more advice.



Treatment for seborrhoeic dermatitis is usually required on a long-term basis, due to the fact it is a chronic condition. However, there are a number of treatments available to alleviate the symptoms. The recommended treatment path depends on the severity of the condition, skin type and which body part is affected, and may include over-the-counter products or prescription medications.

For seborrhoeic dermatitis of the scalp, a medicated anti-dandruff shampoo like Nizoral can be used on a regular basis to treat and prevent symptoms. The active ingredient in Nizoral, ketoconazole, works by reducing malassezia to a healthy level, and is clinically proven to relieve the itching and flaking associated with the condition.

Anti-fungal creams and ointments may be recommended for seborrhoeic dermatitis affecting other areas of the body. Sometimes these are used in conjunction with mild steroids to ease inflammation. If the condition is widespread, or resistant to topical treatments, a doctor may suggest a course of oral antifungal medication.


Though seborrhoeic dermatitis is considered a long-term condition, it can be managed with appropriate guidance from a healthcare professional. Making lifestyle changes, like getting more sleep or managing stress, may also help to prevent symptoms from flaring up.

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