Seborrheic dermatitis is an inflammation of the upper layers of the skin that causes scales on the scalp, face, and other parts of the body. When it affects newborns, it's called cradle cap.

Seborrheic dermatitis starts gradually. In adults, it often first appears as a condition similar to dandruff, but involving more inflammation of the scalp; itching, burning, or hair loss may occur. Seborrhea may also affect the skin behind the ears, on the eyebrows, on the bridge of the nose, around the nose, or on the trunk.

Besides inflammation of the scalp, newborns with cradle cap might get red bumps on their faces, scaling behind the ears, or a persistent diaper rash. Older children with seborrheic dermatitis may develop a thick, flaky rash.

Seborrhea tends to run in families and often worsens during cold weather. Researchers don't know what causes it and they haven't found a cure, but there are ways to control the condition. Special shampoos containing selenium sulfide, pyrithione zinc, salicylic acid, sulfur, or tar may be helpful for adult dandruff associated with seborrhea.

Corticosteroids may be used for intensely inflammatory lesions. Milder treatments, such as salicylic acid in mineral oil or medicated baby shampoo, are used to treat young children and infants who have scalp rashes.

There is some evidence that the herb aloe might offer some relief to people with seborrheic dermatitis.

Aloe

The gel inside the cactus-like leaves of the aloe plant ( Aloe vera) has traditionally been used to treat burns and cuts. While it may not be effective for this purpose, a recent study indicates that aloe may help relieve the symptoms of seborrheic dermatitis.

In this double-blind, placebo-controlledstudy, 44 adults with seborrheic dermatitis applied either an aloe ointment or a placebo cream to affected areas 2 times daily for 4 to 6 weeks. Compared to the placebo group, those who used aloe reported that their symptoms improved significantly (62% versus 25%). Doctors who examined the participants also concluded that those using aloe had a significant decrease in scaliness, itching, and number of affected areas.1

For more information, including dosage and safety issues, see the full Aloe article.