Seborrheic dermatitis: Tips for managing

These skin-care tips can help keep seborrheic dermatitis under control.

Infants: Cradle cap

Many babies develop this rash on their scalps. Cradle cap normally goes away by 6 to 12 months of age. Until the rash disappears, the following can help:

  • Shampoo the baby’s scalp daily with a baby shampoo. This will help soften the scale.
  • Once the scale starts to soften, gently brush it away.

Infants: Diaper area and elsewhere

If you think your baby has seborrheic dermatitis in the diaper area or elsewhere, it is best to see a dermatologist for a diagnosis. This common rash can look a lot like eczema, psoriasis, or an allergic reaction. Each of these conditions requires a different treatment plan.

Adolescents and adults: Scalp

On the scalp, many people can get relief by using one or more dandruff shampoos.

  • For Caucasian patients, shampooing daily can help. You should use a dandruff shampoo twice a week. If using one dandruff shampoo does not bring relief, try alternating dandruff shampoos. For two days in a row, use the first dandruff shampoo. Then use the second dandruff shampoo for two days in a row. Each dandruff shampoo should contain a different active ingredient. The active ingredients in dandruff shampoos are:
    • Zinc pyrithione.
    • Salicylic acid and sulfur.
    • Coal tar.
    • Selenium sulfide.
    • Ketoconazole.
If you have blond, gray, or white hair, do not use a dandruff shampoo that contains coal tar. It can discolor your hair. 
  • When using a dandruff shampoo, follow the instructions on the shampoo bottle. Some require that you lather and leave it on for about five minutes before rinsing. Others should not be left on the scalp.
  • If you use a shampoo that contains coal tar, you must protect your scalp from the sun. You can do this by wearing a hat when outdoors and not using indoor tanning devices, such as tanning beds and sun lamps.
  • African-Americans should shampoo once a week using a dandruff shampoo. It’s best to see a dermatologist for a product recommendation.
Never pull the scale off your scalp. Doing so can cause an infection and noticeable hair loss.

Adolescents and adults: Skin

  • Wash the skin daily with a soap that contains 2% zinc pyrithione.
  • Soften scale by:
    • Wetting the skin thoroughly before washing.
    • Applying a moisturizer after bathing.
    • Applying a tar cream, letting it sit on the skin for several hours before rinsing.
    • Applying a cream containing salicylic acid and sulfur.
    • Do not use petroleum jelly to soften the scales. It tends to worsen seborrheic dermatitis.

Seborrheic dermatitis can be stubborn. If these tips fail, you should see a dermatologist. Some people need the expertise of a dermatologist to control seborrheic dermatitis.

Learn more about seborrheic dermatitis: