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What Causes Seborrheic Dermatitis?

What causes seborrheic dermatitis?

Seborrheic dermatitis (also known as seborrhoeic eczema) is an inflammatory skin condition which, as its name suggests, occurs on parts of the body where there are sebaceous glands.

People who are prone to seborrheic dermatitis generally flare up on the following areas:

  • chest
  • scalp
  • around the nose and ears
  • around the eyebrows, eyelids
  • upper back
  • folds of skin ie armpits, groin
What does seborrheic dermatitis look like?

A flare-up of seborrheic dermatitis makes the skin look sore, flaky, sometimes looking very dry but often oily or yellowish and sometimes weeping pustules..

On dark skin, it can appear as areas of discolouration, lighter than surrounding areas, and pink/ashen grey rather than red.

On pale skin, seborrheic dermatitis tends to show up as red and inflamed.

On the scalp, it appears as dandruff, with mild cases just being light flakes in the hair, but severe cases being seriously affected with scaling, oozing, and intensely itchy patches.

Who gets seborrheic dermatitis?

Although it’s not clear exactly what causes it, some groups of people are more likely to suffer from seborrheic dermatitis than others.

  • Adults 30-60
  • Men more commonly affected than women
  • People of BAME background are more at risk than Caucasians
  • People with various other underlying health conditions, both mental and physical
What triggers seborrheic dermatitis?

The answer to what causes seborrheic dermatitis is a complex one! It seems to be a combination of genetic predisposition, plus life circumstances and environmental triggers which can tip the skin’s condition from being healthy to out of balance. There’s also been research which suggests that this form of dermatitis is caused, or at least worsened, by an overgrowth of a common (and otherwise harmless) kind of yeast called Malassezia, which can trigger an inflammatory response when present in high quantities.

Life circumstances that can trigger a flare-up of seborrheic dermatitis include:

  • Diet
  • Mental illness
  • Stress
  • Other health conditions

Other triggers that can aggravate the condition include:

  • Irritating ingredients in skincare
  • Environmental factors such as dry, hot, cold or windy weather
  • Some medications
  • Skin irritants in household or industrial chemicals

See the next in our series of articles about seborrheic dermatitis here: What’s The Best Treatment For Seborrheic Dermatitis On The Face?

Suggested products:

Skin Salvation works really well to keep flaky dry skin soft and smooth, and is generally much better tolerated on sore skin than water-based creams which can sting; it also includes natural anti-inflammatories to reduce swelling and curb the itch.


Balmonds Scalp Oil is a great antimicrobial rescue oil; it can be massaged into the scalp and the hairline, and left on overnight. (Put down an old towel on our pillow as the oil can stain, and wash out with a mild SLS-free shampoo in the morning.) It can also be used as a topical rescue oil on smaller areas of seborrheic dermatitis.

Posted on: Nov 11, 2019

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