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Seborrheic dermatitis (seb-uh-REE-ick dur-muh-TIE-tis) occurs in areas of the body where there are a lot of oil-producing glands such as the scalp, nose and back. In infants, seborrheic dermatitis usually appears on the scalp and is commonly known as “cradle cap.” In older children and adults, seborrheic dermatitis on the scalp is typically called dandruff.
The exact cause of seborrheic dermatitis is unknown, but it is believed to be a combination of factors including genes, yeast that lives naturally on the skin, stress, chemical irritants and/or dry, cold weather that causes the skin to overproduce oil. In infants, researchers believe seborrheic dermatitis is triggered in part by hormones from the mother.
Unlike other forms of eczema, seborrheic dermatitis is not the result of an allergy.
Sometimes seborrheic dermatitis appears on the infant’s face, especially around the eyes and nose area. It can also appear in the diaper area and in the folds of babies’ skin.
Seborrheic dermatitis in infants typically goes away at ages 6 to 12 months. Dandruff usually persists into adulthood.
In infants and children, seborrheic dermatitis can appear on the scalp or body as:
For the most part, babies are unbothered by the symptoms of seborrheic dermatitis. For more severe cases, it is important to be on the lookout for any signs of infection such as skin that feels hot, weeps fluid or smells bad. Contact your health care provider if you suspect your child has an infection.
If the seborrheic dermatitis is mild, an OTC topical antifungal cream or medicated shampoo with ketoconazole, selenium sulfide, coal tar or zinc pyrithione, may be enough to control symptoms. It is OK to leave mild seborrheic dermatitis untreated if your child is not uncomfortable.
In more severe cases, a provider may prescribe topical steroids or TCIs to calm the inflammation. Oral antifungal agents may also be used.