Seborrhoeic (pronounced seb-or-A-ik) simply means that the rash appears in those areas of the skin with large numbers of grease (sebaceous) glands, such as the scalp and sides of the nose.
Seborrhoeic eczema in adults
Adult seborrhoeic eczema usually starts on the scalp as dandruff that can progress to redness, irritation and increased scaling, which becomes seborrhoeic eczema. As the scalp becomes inflamed, the eczema may spread onto the face and neck.
Eyebrows, temples, folds at the sides of the nose, and neck are often affected – the area looks red and sheds small white flakes of skin. Seborrhoeic eczema can be particularly bad behind the ears – larger, greasy scales stick to the skin and surrounding hair, making the area look thickly crusted. The ear folds and canal may also be affected, causing irritation inside the ear, which is called ear eczema.
Seborrhoeic eczema often occurs only on the scalp and face, but it can extend to the centres of the chest and back, especially in men. Other areas which can also be affected are the armpits, under the breasts, groin and between the buttocks and genitals.
The role of pityrosporum ovale
The cause of seborrhoeic eczema is not entirely clear. However, it has come to light that a yeast called pityrosporum ovale (also known as malassezia furfur) is found on the skin of people with seborrhoeic eczema. At present it is not clear if this yeast is the sole cause or merely a contributing factor to seborrhoeic eczema however it thrives in areas of the body where there are increased numbers of sebaceous glands.
Unfortunately, seborrhoeic eczema does tend to return at intervals, especially when treatment is stopped. With treatment the condition can be successfully controlled in most cases so that the skin and scalp are comfortable much of the time.
Seborrhoeic eczema in children
Childhood seborrhoeic eczema is usually seen in infants under the age of one andcan appear quite suddenly between two and six months after birth. Often the nappy area is affected first, however, it tends to spread fairly rapidly so that the scalp, face, neck, armpits and sometimes even the trunk are soon affected – this may seem rather alarming but don’t worry, it will soon improve!
In the nappy area, the skin looks red, inflamed and flaky – the surface may also feel bumpy due to tiny blisters. The skin scales in this area are small and white, and tend to rub off easily making the skin look shiny. Sometimes it spreads up the body and down the legs, when small round or oval patches are seen, which later join together to form larger red areas.
On the scalp, the scales are larger, greasy and yellowish – they tend to stick to the head making it look crusted. The forehead, temples, eyebrows, back of neck, behind the ears and folds at the sides of the nose are often also affected.
Childhood seborrhoeic eczema is not usually itchy, sore or uncomfortable, so your baby should feed, play and sleep as usual, and hopefully be undisturbed by it.
What to do next? Find out about treatment
You can find out about the range of treatments options for different types of eczema in our comprehensive Treatment area of the website.
It has come to light that a yeast called pityrosporum ovale (also known as malassezia furfur) is found on the skin of people with seborrhoeic eczema.