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Seborrheic Dermatitis/Dandruff

If you're in St. Louis and dealing with a persistent skin condition, you may have come across the term "seborrheic dermatitis." But what exactly is it, and how can you manage it? As trusted dermatologists at Missouri Baptist Medical Center, we're here to provide you with the information you need to understand and effectively treat seborrheic dermatitis.

Seborrheic dermatitis is a common skin condition that affects millions of people worldwide, including those in St. Louis. It is often characterized by red, inflamed skin, and can cause itching, flaking, and discomfort. Many people mistake it for dandruff, but seborrheic dermatitis can actually occur in other areas of the body beyond the scalp, such as the face, chest, and other oily areas.

Male with seborrheic scaling on eyebrows, glabella, and eyelids.

I. Introduction

Seborrheic dermatitis is a common skin condition that affects the scalp and other oily areas of the body, such as the face, chest, and back. It is characterized by red, itchy, and flaky skin that can be both embarrassing and uncomfortable. We will delve into the details of seborrheic dermatitis, including its definition, causes, symptoms, and treatment options.

Definition of Seborrheic Dermatitis

Seborrheic dermatitis, also known as seborrhea or dandruff, is a chronic inflammatory skin condition that primarily affects areas with a high concentration of sebaceous glands, such as the scalp, face, and upper trunk. It is characterized by the overproduction of sebum, a waxy oil produced by the sebaceous glands, which leads to the formation of reddish, yellowish, or sometimes white scales on the skin. These scales can be itchy and greasy.

Clarification on Differences Between Seborrheic Dermatitis and Dandruff 

Many people confuse seborrheic dermatitis with dandruff, as they share similar symptoms and often occur in the same areas of the body. However, they are not exactly the same thing. Dandruff is a milder form of seborrheic dermatitis that only affects the scalp, while seborrheic dermatitis can occur on other oily areas of the body as well. Despite their differences in severity and location, the underlying causes and treatment approaches for both conditions are similar.

II. Who Gets Seborrheic Dermatitis?

Seborrheic dermatitis can affect people of all ages, but certain factors increase the risk of developing this condition. Understanding the demographic information and risk factors associated with seborrheic dermatitis can help individuals take appropriate measures to manage and prevent flare-ups.

Demographic Information on Who is at Risk of Developing Seborrheic Dermatitis

Seborrheic dermatitis affects people of all races and genders, but certain age groups are more susceptible to this condition. Infants, adolescents, and adults between the ages of 30 and 60 are more likely to develop seborrheic dermatitis. It is estimated that up to 5% of infants and 3-5% of adults are affected by seborrheic dermatitis.

III. Causes of Seborrheic Dermatitis

Seborrheic dermatitis is a multifactorial condition with various possible causes. These may include:

  1. Genetics: Family history can play a role in the development of seborrheic dermatitis, as there is evidence of a genetic predisposition to the condition. If your parents or close relatives have had seborrheic dermatitis, you may be at a higher risk of developing it as well.

  2. Environmental factors: Certain environmental factors such as cold weather, dry air, and pollution can trigger or exacerbate seborrheic dermatitis. These environmental factors can disrupt the natural balance of the skin, leading to increased sebum production and inflammation.

  3. Yeast overgrowth: Malassezia, a type of yeast that normally resides on the skin, has been implicated as a possible trigger for seborrheic dermatitis. It is believed that an overgrowth of Malassezia on the skin can disrupt the skin's barrier function and trigger an inflammatory response, leading to the characteristic symptoms of seborrheic dermatitis.

  4. Hormonal changes: Hormonal changes, such as those that occur during puberty, pregnancy, or with certain medical conditions like hormonal imbalances, can also contribute to the development of seborrheic dermatitis. Hormones can affect the production of sebum and the overall health of the skin, potentially leading to seborrheic dermatitis.

  5. Immune system dysfunction: Dysfunction of the immune system, such as a weakened immune system or an overactive immune response, can also play a role in the development of seborrheic dermatitis. An imbalanced immune system may not be able to effectively regulate the inflammatory response on the skin, leading to seborrheic dermatitis flare-ups.

  6. Other factors: Other factors such as stress, poor hygiene, and certain medications or medical conditions that weaken the immune system can also contribute to the development of seborrheic dermatitis.

It's important to note that the exact cause of seborrheic dermatitis is still not fully understood, and more research is needed to fully elucidate the underlying mechanisms involved.

IV. Symptoms of Seborrheic Dermatitis

The symptoms of seborrheic dermatitis can vary depending on the severity of the condition. Common signs and symptoms may include:

  1. Red, inflamed skin: Seborrheic dermatitis typically presents as red, inflamed skin with greasy or oily patches. The affected areas may appear swollen and may be accompanied by itchiness or discomfort.

  2. Flaky skin: One of the hallmark symptoms of seborrheic dermatitis is the presence of flaky, scaly skin. These flakes may be white or yellowish in color and can often be mistaken for dandruff.

  3. Itching and discomfort: Seborrheic dermatitis can be itchy and uncomfortable, causing a persistent urge to scratch the affected areas. However, scratching can further irritate the skin and worsen the condition.

  4. Greasy or oily skin: The areas affected by seborrheic dermatitis may appear greasy or oily, as the condition is characterized by an overproduction of sebum.

  5. Crusts or scales: In more severe cases, seborrheic dermatitis can lead to the formation of crusts or scales on the affected skin areas. These crusts or scales may be thick and adherent, and can sometimes cause pain or tenderness.

V. Seborrheic Dermatitis and Cradle Cap in Infants

Seborrheic dermatitis can also affect infants, commonly known as cradle cap. Cradle cap is a type of seborrheic dermatitis that typically affects newborns and infants up to three months old. It is characterized by thick, yellowish or brownish scales on the scalp, which may be accompanied by redness or inflammation. Cradle cap is generally harmless and does not cause discomfort to the baby. However, it can be distressing for parents to see their little one's scalp covered in scales.

The exact cause of cradle cap is not well understood, but it is believed to be related to an overgrowth of yeast on the scalp, hormonal changes, or other factors. The good news is that cradle cap usually resolves on its own within a few weeks to months, and treatment is usually not required. However, gently washing the baby's scalp with a mild baby shampoo and brushing the scales with a soft brush can help to loosen and remove the scales.

In some cases, if the cradle cap is severe, persistent, or causing discomfort to the baby, one of our dermatologists may recommend medicated shampoos or other topical treatments. 

VI. Seborrheic Dermatitis in Adults and Adolescents

Seborrheic dermatitis can also affect adults and adolescents, although it is more commonly seen in infants and middle-aged individuals. In adults and adolescents, seborrheic dermatitis typically occurs in areas of the body where there are many sebaceous glands, such as the scalp, face, eyebrows, ears, chest, and back. The symptoms of seborrheic dermatitis in adults and adolescents are similar to those in infants and may include redness, flaking, itching, and discomfort.

Seborrheic dermatitis in adults and adolescents can have a significant impact on self-esteem and quality of life, as the visible symptoms on the face or other exposed areas of the body can be embarrassing or uncomfortable. However, with proper diagnosis and management, the symptoms of seborrheic dermatitis can usually be controlled effectively.

It's important to note that seborrheic dermatitis is a chronic condition, which means that it may require ongoing management to prevent flare-ups and keep the symptoms under control. Our dermatologists at Missouri Baptist Medical Center can provide expert advice on how to manage seborrheic dermatitis in adults and adolescents, including lifestyle changes, over-the-counter treatments, and prescription medications as needed. 

VII. Treatment of Seborrheic Dermatitis in St. Louis

The treatment of seborrheic dermatitis may vary depending on the severity of the condition and the individual's age, overall health, and other factors. 

Here are some general tips and treatment options that dermatologists may recommend for managing seborrheic dermatitis:

  1. Lifestyle changes: Dermatologists may advise certain lifestyle changes that can help alleviate the symptoms of seborrheic dermatitis. This may include avoiding triggers such as stress, cold weather, or harsh skin care products that can worsen the condition. Maintaining good hygiene practices, such as regular shampooing with a mild shampoo and gentle skin cleansing, may also be beneficial.

  2. Topical treatments: Topical treatments are commonly used for mild to moderate cases of seborrheic dermatitis. These may include medicated shampoos or creams containing active ingredients such as ketoconazole, selenium sulfide, zinc pyrithione, or coal tar, which can help reduce inflammation, itching, and scaling on the affected areas. Applying these products as directed by a healthcare provider can help control the symptoms of seborrheic dermatitis.

  3. Prescription medications: In more severe cases of seborrheic dermatitis, dermatologists may prescribe stronger medications, such as corticosteroids or antifungal creams, to help reduce inflammation and manage symptoms. These medications should be used under the guidance of a healthcare provider, as prolonged use of corticosteroids can have side effects.

  4. Phototherapy: Phototherapy, which involves exposing the affected skin to specific wavelengths of light, may also be recommended in some cases. Phototherapy has been found to be effective in reducing inflammation and controlling symptoms in seborrheic dermatitis.

  5. Lifestyle modifications: In addition to avoiding triggers, dermatologists may recommend lifestyle modifications, such as reducing stress, improving diet and nutrition, and getting regular exercise, to help manage seborrheic dermatitis. These changes can contribute to overall skin health and may help reduce the frequency and severity of flare-ups.

  6. Follow-up appointments: It's important to follow up with a dermatologist for regular check-ups and adjustments to the treatment plan, as seborrheic dermatitis is a chronic condition that may require ongoing management. A dermatologist can monitor the progress of treatment and make necessary modifications to ensure optimal results.

VIII. Medications and Topical Treatments for Seborrheic Dermatitis

In addition to lifestyle changes and preventive measures, there are various medications and topical treatments that can be prescribed by a dermatologist to manage seborrheic dermatitis. These may include:

  1. Antifungal agents: Topical antifungal creams, lotions, or shampoos containing active ingredients such as ketoconazole, ciclopirox, or selenium sulfide can be used to reduce the overgrowth of yeast on the skin, which is believed to contribute to seborrheic dermatitis. These antifungal agents work by inhibiting the growth of yeast and reducing inflammation.

  2. Corticosteroids: Topical corticosteroid creams or lotions can help reduce inflammation, redness, and itching associated with seborrheic dermatitis. These may be prescribed for short-term use and in low potency to minimize the risk of side effects.

  3. Calcineurin inhibitors: Topical calcineurin inhibitors, such as tacrolimus and pimecrolimus, are non-steroidal medications that can be used to manage seborrheic dermatitis, especially in sensitive areas like the face and groin. They work by reducing inflammation and suppressing the immune response.

  4. Topical sulfur or salicylic acid: These ingredients can be found in some medicated shampoos or creams and can help to exfoliate the skin, reduce scaling, and alleviate itching associated with seborrheic dermatitis.

  5. Other topical treatments: Depending on the severity of the condition, other topical treatments may be prescribed, such as coal tar, zinc pyrithione, or resorcinol, which can help reduce inflammation and flaking.

  6. Oral medications: Sometimes corticosteroid or anti-fungal medications are given by mouth, especially for severe cases to quickly control the seborrhea.

IX. Prevention and Maintenance of Seborrheic Dermatitis

Prevention and maintenance are essential in managing seborrheic dermatitis to minimize the frequency and severity of flare-ups. Here are some tips that can help:

  1. Good hygiene practices: Keeping the affected areas clean and well-maintained can help prevent the buildup of excess sebum and yeast that can trigger seborrheic dermatitis. Regularly shampooing the scalp with a mild shampoo, gently cleansing the face and other affected areas, and avoiding harsh skin care products can be beneficial.

  2. Avoiding triggers: Identifying and avoiding triggers that worsen seborrheic dermatitis can help prevent flare-ups. These triggers may vary from person to person and can include stress, cold weather, excessive heat, and certain foods. Keeping a journal to track potential triggers can help identify and avoid them.

  3. Moisturization: Keeping the skin well-hydrated with moisturizers can help maintain the skin barrier and reduce dryness and flaking. Opt for non-comedogenic, fragrance-free moisturizers that are suitable for sensitive skin.

  4. Diet and nutrition: Maintaining a healthy diet and proper nutrition can support overall skin health. Including foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids, antioxidants, and vitamins can help nourish the skin from within and potentially reduce inflammation.

  5. Stress management: Managing stress through relaxation techniques, exercise, and other stress-reducing methods can help prevent flare-ups of seborrheic dermatitis, as stress can trigger or worsen skin conditions.

  6. Regular follow-ups: Regular follow-up appointments with a dermatologist are important to monitor the progress of treatment and make necessary adjustments to the management plan. This can help prevent flare-ups and maintain optimal skin health.

By following these preventive measures and incorporating them into a regular maintenance routine, individuals with seborrheic dermatitis can effectively manage the condition and reduce the frequency and severity of flare-ups.

As a leading dermatology clinic, Mid-County Dermatology at Missouri Baptist Medical Center in St. Louis, MO, is equipped with a team of experts who are experienced in treating seborrheic dermatitis. With a comprehensive approach that includes lifestyle changes, preventive measures, and a range of medications and topical treatments, Mid-County Dermatology is committed to helping patients effectively manage seborrheic dermatitis and alleviate its symptoms.

If you are seeking treatment for seborrheic dermatitis, schedule your visit online or call or text us at 314-994-0200.

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