How one can inform the distinction

Seborrheic dermatitis and dandruff are both common skin conditions that affect the seborrheic areas of the body. The seborrheic areas are responsible for the skin’s production of sebum, also known as sebum.

Both seborrheic dermatitis and dandruff have a spectrum of the same condition, with dandruff being a mild form of seborrheic dermatitis. Taken together, both conditions affect approximately half of adults in the United States.

While seborrheic dermatitis and dandruff both cause a dry, itchy scalp, they have other symptoms that allow us to tell them apart. Dandruff only ever occurs on the scalp, while seborrheic dermatitis can spread to other seborrheic areas such as the face, ears, and upper chest.

Fortunately, both conditions are treatable either at home or by your dermatologist.

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Dandruff vs. Seborrheic Dermatitis

Dandruff causes white or yellow flakes of dry skin on the scalp. Seborrheic dermatitis also causes flaky skin. In addition, this condition can lead to flaking, itching, redness, swelling, and inflammation of the skin.

Dandruff only ever occurs on the scalp, while seborrheic dermatitis can spread to other seborrheic areas such as the face, ears, and upper chest.

Seborrheic dermatitis tends to occur in certain phases of life and reaches its peak in infancy and adolescence. Cradle cap, a common skin condition on the scalp of babies, is caused by seborrheic dermatitis.

Seborrheic dermatitis affects approximately 42% of infants and can also be found on an infant’s face and diaper area.

In adolescents, seborrheic dermatitis often affects the scalp, face, upper chest, armpits, and inguinal folds or folds. It’s more common in men than women.

Dandruff is also more common and more common in men than women. Dandruff usually begins around puberty, peaking around age 20, and is less common after age 50.

How to tell the difference

Seborrheic dermatitis and dandruff can both lead to itchy, flaky skin on the scalp. Dandruff usually appears as small, white flakes on your hair and scalp.

Seborrheic dermatitis usually shows up as defined plaques of oily, yellow scales on the scalp, behind the ears, and on the nose, upper lip, eyelids, eyebrows, and upper chest. These lesions usually appear symmetrical on the body and are not contagious.

Seborrheic dermatitis tends to follow a seasonal pattern and is more common during the cold winter months. In babies, seborrheic dermatitis usually presents as a cradle cap. In adults, the condition can be chronic and recurring.

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Risk factors

Seborrheic dermatitis has several known risk factors, including:

  • Presence of yeast on the skin: Studies have shown that higher concentrations of Malassezia yeast on the skin are linked to an increased incidence of seborrheic dermatitis. This may be due to the skin’s inflammatory response to yeast overgrowth.
  • Increased oil production: Both seborrheic dermatitis and dandruff are associated with increased sebum activity in the skin. The sebum glands are most active shortly after birth and again during puberty. Men tend to produce more sebum than women, which puts them at higher risk for seborrheic dermatitis and dandruff.
  • Immunosuppression: If your immune system is weakened, there is an increased risk of developing seborrheic dermatitis. People diagnosed with HIV / AIDS are at increased risk of developing the disease.
  • High cholesterol: High cholesterol may be linked to your risk of developing seborrheic dermatitis. This may be because the Malassezia yeast can cause triglycerides to break down in the blood, resulting in high cholesterol and free fatty acids.
  • Parkinson’s disease: There is a high correlation between Parkinson’s disease and seborrheic dermatitis. This may be due to the sebum changes that occur during the illness.
  • Family history: Recent research suggests that seborrheic dermatitis and dandruff may have a genetic component. If your family runs these conditions, you may be at a higher risk of developing them.
  • Emotional stress: Seborrheic dermatitis tends to be more common in people who experience depression or emotional stress.

Other causes of dry, itchy scalp

In addition to seborrheic dermatitis and dandruff, there are other skin conditions that can cause dry, itchy scalps in children and adults. Examples are dry skin, psoriasis, atopic dermatitis, tinea capitis, rosacea, and lupus.

Dry skin

Dry skin occurs when the skin loses moisture, leaving it dry and flaky. This common skin condition can be caused by a number of factors, including aging, drug side effects, ethnicity, cold weather, smoking, nutritional deficiencies, and chronic health conditions.

While dandruff and dry skin can cause dry, flaky skin, dry skin can appear anywhere on the body. Dandruff only occurs and causes dandruff on the scalp.


Psoriasis is an autoimmune disease in which skin cells multiply too quickly. This leads to a build-up of dead skin cells that cause plaques on the skin. Psoriasis usually runs in families and is not contagious.

While seborrheic dermatitis and psoriasis both lead to the formation of skin plaques, the plaques appear differently. Seborrheic dermatitis plaques are yellow and greasy, while psoriatic plaques are usually much thicker and silvery white in color. Psoriatic plaques are also covered with scales.

Contact dermatitis

Contact dermatitis is a common skin condition that occurs when something that has touched your skin causes irritation. This allergic skin reaction can result from soaps, laundry detergents, clothing, the sun, or other irritants causing a reaction on your skin.

Contact dermatitis presents as a dry, itchy rash and sometimes blisters. While both dandruff and seborrheic dermatitis can cause itching, the feeling is usually not as intense as with contact dermatitis.


Both dandruff and seborrheic dermatitis are treatable. Dandruff is often treated at home, and seborrheic dermatitis may require a visit to your dermatologist.

If you have contact dermatitis, treatment will depend on what irritant is causing the reaction. Once you know why you’re having an allergic reaction, you can avoid the irritant and prevent contact dermatitis.

If you have psoriasis, work with your dermatologist to find the right combination of medication and light therapy to treat the plaques on the skin.

Dandruff can usually be treated effectively with regular home use of a dandruff shampoo. Dermatologists recommend using a treatment shampoo once a week if you are black and twice a week if you are Asian or white.

Treatment for seborrheic dermatitis often requires a topical antifungal ointment or shampoo. If your lesions are not responding to treatment, your dermatologist may recommend the following:

  • Anti-inflammatory drugs
  • Coal tar shampoo
  • Phototherapy
  • Immunomodulators

Relief from itching and dandruff

To relieve itching at home, the following remedies may be helpful:

  • Moisten: Apply a gentle moisturizer to your skin after showering or bathing to prevent dry skin and dandruff.
  • Opt for lukewarm water: Hot showers can feel wonderful, but they can be rough on your skin. Try to limit baths and showers to five minutes and use lukewarm water that doesn’t dry out irritated skin.
  • Opt for fragrance-free: When choosing household items that will touch your skin, such as soaps or laundry detergents, look for gentle, fragrance-free types as these are less likely to cause skin irritation.
  • Try coconut oil: Applying coconut oil to the scalp has been shown to moisturize the skin and can also reduce inflammation.
  • Find tea tree oil: Tea tree oil has been used for other skin conditions such as athlete’s foot, and a 2002 study found that shampoos infused with tea tree oil can be effective at treating dandruff.
  • Manage stress: Since stress can increase your risk of developing seborrheic dermatitis, find healthy ways to reduce stress, such as getting enough sleep, exercising mindfulness, and meeting with a therapist.

frequently asked Questions

What is the Best Treatment for Seborrheic Dermatitis?

The best treatment for seborrheic dermatitis will depend on where the lesions are on your body and how severe they are. Treatment often includes topical antifungal medications and other treatments as needed.

How do you get rid of seborrheic dermatitis on the scalp naturally?

It is best to work with your dermatologist to treat seborrheic dermatitis as this condition can be chronic and recurring in some people. To manage the itching yourself, you can try home remedies like a gentle moisturizer, fragrance-free skin products, lukewarm baths or showers, coconut oil, tea tree oil, and stress management techniques.

How often should you wash your hair if you have seborrheic dermatitis?

If you have seborrheic dermatitis or dandruff, your shampoo plan will depend on your hair type. If you’re black, dermatologists recommend washing your hair with a dandruff shampoo once a week. If you’re Asian or white, wash your hair every day and use a dandruff shampoo about twice a week.

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