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Seborrheic dermatitis: Signs and symptoms

What are the signs and symptoms of seborrheic dermatitis?

The signs and symptoms of seborrheic dermatitis vary with age. The following describes how it affects people at different ages.

Adults and adolescents

Seborrheic dermatitis causes:

  • Scaly patches on the skin

  • The skin beneath these patches is reddish

  • Although scaly, patches often look greasy or moist

  • Scales can flake off and tend to be yellowish to white

Scalp and face

Reddish, oily-looking patches often appear on the scalp and face.

Reddish, oily-looking patches on the face and scalp

Signs on the scalp

A patch of seborrheic dermatitis on a man’s scalp.

A patch of seborrheic dermatitis on a man’s scalp.

In adults and adolescents, the skin can:

  • Itch, especially on the scalp and in the ear canal

  • Burn

Patches form where the skin is oily:

  • Scalp

  • Ears (around and in the ear canal)

  • Eyebrows (the skin beneath)

  • Center of the face

  • Eyelids

  • Upper chest

  • Upper back

  • Armpits

  • Genitals

Patches form where the skin is oily, such as on the scalp, face, and in the ear canals.

Pinkish skin

The pinkish skin on this woman’s forehead, eyelids, and nose is seborrheic dermatitis.

Seborrheic dermatitis on a woman’s forehead, eyelids, and nose

People who are HIV positive

When a person is HIV positive, seborrheic dermatitis is often widespread.

Close-up of a man with seborrheic dermatitis on face

People with Parkinson's disease

People with Parkinson’s disease often have widespread seborrheic dermatitis, as shown here.

Close-up of woman with scaly patches of skin on face from seborrheic dermatitis


When an infant gets seborrheic dermatitis, it tends to form on the scalp and is known as cradle cap. Signs and symptoms of cradle cap include:

  • Yellow, greasy scale on the scalp

  • A thick layer of scale can cover the entire scalp

  • Scale is often yellow to brownish in color

  • With time, the scale becomes flaky and easily rubs off

In infants, seborrheic dermatitis also can form on the face, usually on a baby’s eyelids, around the nose, or ears. It also forms in the diaper area. In a few babies, seborrheic dermatitis covers most of the body.

Most infants seem unbothered by seborrheic dermatitis. Cradle cap sometimes itches.

Images used with permission of the American Academy of Dermatology National Library of Dermatologic Teaching Slides.

Habif TP, Campbell JL, et al. “Seborrheic dermatitis.” In: Dermatology DDxDeck.China, Mosby Elsevier: 2006, p. 40.

Plewig G Jansen T. “Seborrheic Dermatitis.” In: Wolff K, Goldsmith LA, Katz SI, et al. editors. Fitzpatrick’s Dermatology in General Medicine, 7th ed. United States of America, McGraw Hill Medical; 2008. p.219-25.