What Is the Cause of Seborrheic Dermatitis?

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  • Written By: Angela Farrer
  • Edited By: W. Everett
  • Last Modified Date: 19 January 2020
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Dermatologists do not know the precise cause of seborrheic dermatitis, but many of them point to several contributing factors to this skin condition. Emotional stress, seasonal skin dryness, and the presence of certain fungi in the skin's oil secretions are frequently listed as possible causes of seborrheic dermatitis. Some sufferers with these symptoms can be more susceptible to dermatitis rash outbreaks than others. People with seborrheic dermatitis often receive a definite diagnosis only after doctors have ruled out the possibility of other skin infections that exhibit similar symptoms. Physicians treating individuals with chronic conditions, such as Parkinson's disease, sometimes report that these patients can have higher instances of seborrheic dermatitis.

Common symptoms of seborrheic dermatitis include itchy, red, and tender patches on the skin's surface. Despite the itching, these skin patches can also sometimes have an oily texture, particularly in areas of the body that are not normally exposed to the open air. The scalp, armpits, hip joint areas, and groin are especially prone to seborrheic dermatitis outbreaks. While dry and cold winter air itself is not considered a definitive cause of seborrheic dermatitis, it can make rash flare-ups worse in some individuals. People who experience outbreaks along with heightened stress levels can often manage their seborrheic dermatitis with regular anxiety-reducing techniques.


Some dermatologists point to the presence of a fungus called malassezia as a possible cause of seborrheic dermatitis. When this yeast mixes with the normal bacteria in the skin's sebum secretions, it can potentially lead to seborrheic dermatitis in people who have existing sensitivities to malassezia yeast. Although this fungus may be a cause of seborrheic dermatitis, medical researchers usually point out that in clinical tests, it does not spread from person to person as do other types of fungal infections. Some researchers also suggest that certain hormone fluctuations can be an additional cause of seborrheic dermatitis.

Methods of treating seborrheic dermatitis often include the application of topical antifungal medicines that can decrease the number and severity of the rashes. Sufferers with patches of dermatitis on their scalps are usually prescribed shampoos and conditioners that contain medicines, such as ciclopirox or ketoconazole. Some patients can have allergies to these substances, so most dermatologists will only prescribe these treatments to patients who have tested negative for these skin sensitivities. These doctors will also usually prescribe oral medications, such as terbinafine, for some severe cases of seborrheic dermatitis.


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