Dandruff and seborrheic dermatitis are related problems with similar treatments. Dandruff is a flaky, itchy scalp without signs of inflammation (such as redness or swelling). When the condition also involves your face, eyebrows, ears, upper chest, or groin, it often has a red, flaky, crusty, or greasy appearance and it’s called seborrheic dermatitis.
Dermatologists consider dandruff and seborrheic dermatitis to be similar conditions. With both of these conditions, the flakes (scales) that your skin sheds are a mix of oils and dead skin. These scales are usually white to yellowish, but they can also be brown or gray.
What Causes Dandruff?
Researchers aren’t entirely sure why some people develop dandruff and seborrheic dermatitis, but they do know that both conditions:
- Aren’t caused by poor hygiene
- Aren’t caused by an allergy
- Don’t harm the body
Many researchers believe they may be due to hormone levels, a weakened immune system, a lack of certain nutrients, or nervous system problems. Seborrheic dermatitis appears to run in families, and it can flare up, occasionally for years at a time.
Individual reactions to a yeast-like fungus called Malassezia may also lead to seborrheic dermatitis. Your risk for seborrheic dermatitis increases if you have any of these conditions:
- Stress or fatigue
- Acne, rosacea, or psoriasis
- Parkinson’s disease or a head injury
- Recovery from a stroke or heart attack
- An eating disorder
Your risk is also higher if you’re taking any of the following medications: