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Seborrhoeic Dermatitis

Seborrhoeic Dermatitis is a common dermatitis with a characteristic distribution. It appears in areas where sebaceous glands are numerous such as the face, extending downwards to the neck and behind the ears, the scalp, central chest and between the shoulder blades. The flexures may also be affected, particularly the axillae, the submammary regions and the ano-genital region.

The sebaceous glands are active at birth, but when stimulation by maternal hormones ceases they become inactive for 9 – 12 years. Seborrhoeic Dermatitis during infancy is normally confined to the first months of life. Most commonly, Seborrhoeic Dermatitis occurs between the ages of 18 – 40. Occasionally cases are seen in old age. At all ages Seborrhoeic Dermatitis is more common in males than in females.

Seborrhoeic Dermatitis may appear as the following variations:
(a) a scaly, reddened eruption on the scalp, forehead, eyebrows, base of the nose, on the chest or pubic region, or
(b) a moist, fissured eruption which may appear in flexural areas.

On the scalp Seborrhoeic Dermatitis usually begins as red spots covered with greasy, yellowish scales, which frequently spread and increase in size. The patient complains of itchiness, discomfort and sometimes loss of hair. It may spread downwards to involve the ears and neck, or forward to involve the forehead. Eyelids may also be affected. The flexural type of Seborrhoeic Dermatitis may appear as moist, red, scaly persistent areas under the breasts, between the buttocks, in the armpit, the groin or umbilicus. Behind the ears, scales may accumulate and fissuring occur. Without treatment, the eruption extends.


A review of the literature by Shuster (1984) Br J Dermatol, 111:235, concluded that Pityrosporum, a yeast organism, is the causative agent in seborrhoeic dermatitis. This view is gaining increasing support in the medical community.

The way in which Pityrosporum induces inflammation and desquamation is not clear although it is known that Pityrosporum can activate complement and this may play some role. Treatment of seborrhoeic dermatitis should be aimed at decreasing yeast numbers as well as inflammation. As this is a chronic, recurring condition, treatment must be effective and safe for long term use.

Advice for the Patient

1. As with all skin conditions that involve pruritus, it is important to advise the patient not to scratch. Scratching can introduce secondary infection to the area leading to a more complicated condition to treat.

2. The patient should be advised to avoid using soap as normal alkaline soaps will remove the skin’s natural acid protection against infection.

Products to Help (Anti-pruritics, Soap Alternatives)

An anti-itch, anti-inflammatory and cleansing solution with a pH of 6.5, Pinetarsol Solution relieves itching and reduces inflammation. Bathing also helps to keep the skin and fingernails clean to reduce the risk of secondary infection caused by scratching. Add 15 - 30 mL to a warm to tepid bath (5 mL to baby’s bath). Bathe for 5 – 10 minutes, once daily or more often in severe cases.

Pinetarsol Gel is a soap alternative which can be used to cleanse the skin when ordinary soaps are contraindicated. Pinetarsol Gel contains pine tar to relieve itching and reduce inflammation.

HairScience Anti-Dandruff Shampoo is a broad spectrum anti-microbial, antipruritic treatment for scalp disorders such as dandruff - mild seborrhoeic dermatitis. It is an effective anti-dandruff shampoo yet gentle enough for regular use. It contains a blend of gentle surfactants that work synergistically to provide effective cleansing without irritation. HairScience Anti-Dandruff Shampoo is effective against Pityrosporum ovale widely thought to be the causative agent in dandruff and seborrhoeic dermatitis. Use twice daily for effective dandruff treatment.