What is seborrhea?
It’s a form of dermatitis that can affect several areas of the body such as the scalp, face, ears, eyebrows and eyelids, and the genital area. Seborrhea is sometimes used as an alternative term for seborrheic dermatitis, or as a mild form of seborrheic dermatitis. Seborrhea of the scalp is often described as ‘dandruff’. It’s not contagious.
What causes it?
We’re not 100% sure what causes the condition. There is evidence it can be caused by an over-production, or reaction by the body, to a yeast called malassazia, which occurs naturally on the skin. Other causes can include stress and exposure of the skin to cold conditions, but it’s thought not to relate to diet, and it’s not an allergic reaction.
It’s actually quite a common condition, but can affect different people more or less severely. It can be persistent, and so can be annoying or embarrassing because of the flaky and discoloured skin.
But it is not a serious condition and it is not passed on by touching. In babies it’s often known as ‘cradle cap’, and can appear at around two months. For them, it’s harmless and usually disappears without treatment.
Symptoms and signs
It often appears as dandruff, or a severe form of dandruff, sometimes accompanied by a rash. The skin affected is red, itchy and may be inflamed.
The skin will also be flaky, with the yellowish flakes being larger than those associated with dandruff. When it occurs on the scalp, the rash may also include weeping sores. Differential diagnosis should also consider the possibility of psoriasis.
There is no proven cure for seborrhea. When it appears on the scalp, it can be treated by the use of medicated, anti-dandruff or anti-fungal shampoos which contain agents like zinc pyrithione, selenium sulphide or ketoconazole. The condition can be persistent, though, and treatment may have to be continued for a long period.
If the condition persists and the skin is inflamed, a GP might prescribe the use of steroid creams for short periods.
Why see a trichologist?
A trichologist will be able to make or confirm a diagnosis of seborrhea, and will be able to recommend treatments.
Importantly, a trichologist will be able to reassure sufferers that the condition is not a result of poor hygiene, that it’s not infectious, and can advise them on how to manage the symptoms over time.
Seborrhea in adults occurs after the onset of puberty. It’s slightly more common in men than in women. It doesn’t affect the health of the hair.
Seborrheic warts (or keratoses) are not associated with seborrhea. They are caused by the build up of cells in one area, possibly as a result of exposure to sunlight, and appear as dark, raised growths.
They are harmless, but can be irritating. The tendency to develop seborrheic warts increases with age.