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Dandruff Again? Flaky Scalp Flare-Ups

By Cara Essling, PA-C

Flaky skin generally comes around each winter when the seasons change. When developing seborrheic dermatitis, otherwise known as dandruff, many ask what they can do to control defiant flakes. Seborrheic dermatitis is a prevalent skin condition that most commonly affects the scalp, although it can also affect you face, ears, chest, back, armpits, and groin.

What is Seborrheic Dermatitis?

Seborrheic dermatitis is caused by yeast overgrowth that naturally inhabits your skin. The cause of this overgrowth is unknown. It is thought that it has to do with the skin glands. In some cases the sebum produced creates an environment where fungus can grow and cause scaling. Genetics, a cold and dry climate and stress are also believed to be predisposing factors for this condition.


Patches of seborrheic dermatitis are most common on the scalp, ears, eyebrows, central face and eyelids. Patches typically appear red or pink with yellowish to white scale. The affected areas may be itchy. The condition may be mistaken for psoriasis, eczema, or an allergic reaction. Symptoms typically come and go throughout life, and affected individuals may experience more flare-ups during winter or with stress.

Those Commonly Affected by Seborrheic Dermatitis

Seborrheic dermatitis most commonly affects infants, during the first three months of life, and adults aged 30-60. In infants, the condition is referred to as “cradle cap”. Cradle cap is characterized by scaly, greasy patches on an infant’s scalp. Cradle cap generally disappears on its own within a few months and is usually resolved by the time the child turns one. Adolescents and adults who develop seborrheic dermatitis tend to deal with this condition chronically.

Treatment Options

Fortunately, many effective treatments for seborrheic dermatitis are available. For seborrheic dermatitis of the scalp, over-the-counter anti-dandruff shampoos are a great start. These shampoos contain active ingredients such as zinc pyrithione, selenium sulfide, ketoconazole 1%, salicylic acid or coal tar. If over-the-counter products are not effective, many prescription treatments are also available.

If you feel that you are experiencing flaky patches that are more than just dandruff, don’t hesitate to schedule an appointment for evaluation and discussion of treatment options with a dermatology provider.

Topics and Subtopics: General Health & Skin Health

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