What does eczema look like on your head?

Eczema affects nearly 30% of people in the United States, and 4% have seborrheic dermatitis. Read on to learn what scalp eczema is and how to treat it.

If you have severe scalp eczema, your doctor may prescribe products containing stronger doses of the aforementioned medicines or medicines containing other ingredients, such as corticosteroids, ciclopirox, sulfacetamide sodium, tacrolimus topical (Protopic), or pimecrolimus topical (Elidel). (2,9)

Seborrheic dermatitis affects body parts with many sebaceous glands, which produce oil. In addition to your scalp, you may notice symptoms on your ears, eyebrows and eyelids, lips, the center of your chest, and the creases of your nose.

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What Is Scalp Eczema, and How Do Treat It

What is eczema and how can it be controlled?

The exact cause of scalp eczema, including seborrheic dermatitis, is unknown. Research has shown that people with eczema may have a genetic mutation that weakens their skin barrier. Your skin typically protects you against harmful substances. In contrast, allergens and irritants may cross the skin barrier and cause symptoms in people with eczema. That genetic mutation also leads to water loss, which drys out the skin.

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Treatments for Scalp Eczema

“Cradle cap” in babies is a condition that doctors call seborrheic eczema or seborrheic dermatitis. It appears as oily, scaly patches on the scalp. In contrast, atopic dermatitis is more often found on the cheeks, though it can also affect the scalp. Also unlike eczema, cradle cap typically isn’t itchy. Usually cradle cap clears up without treatment in a few weeks or months.

Triggers that bring on an allergy attack — such as pollen, animal dander, and dust mites — can cause some people with atopic dermatitis to break out in a rash. These allergens cause the immune system to overreact, leading to skin inflammation.

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An imbalance of microbes on the scalp may cause seborrheic dermatitis. Malassezia is a yeast (fungus) that usually lives on parts of your skin with many sebaceous glands. Some evidence suggests that seborrheic dermatitis symptoms occur when there’s an overgrowth of Malassezia. Overactive sebaceous glands may also cause seborrheic dermatitis.

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What Is the Best Treatment for Eczema on the Scalp?

Infants who are 6-12 weeks old can get atopic dermatitis as a patchy facial rash. Moisture from drooling makes it worse. In some cases, the condition goes away by age 2. But about half of people who had atopic dermatitis as a child will have it as an adult.

Irritants can cause inflammation and itching, bringing on eczema. Harsh chemicals can cause a rash in anyone, but people with eczema may be sensitive to mild irritants, such as wool and synthetic fabrics, detergents, soaps, perfumes, and cosmetics. Stress or anxiety can cause a flare-up, too. So can sweating, along with wetting and drying your skin a lot, such as when you wash your hands. Cold, dry environments can also cause a flare.

What Is Scalp Eczema? Symptoms, Causes, Treatment, and More

14) danielle71 / Thinkstock

24) Catherine Falls Commercial / Getty Images

National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal & Skin Diseases: “Atopic Dermatitis,” “Is there a test for atopic dermatitis?”

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Prescription skin meds that calm an overactive immune system can treat eczema from atopic dermatitis. Doctors generally prescribe them only for short-term use in people who’ve tried other treatments that haven’t helped. They have a “black box” warning due to a higher cancer risk. So ask your doctor about the pros and cons. A biologic medication called Dupixent, given as a shot, works on the immune system to treat atopic dermatitis.

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Eczema and Allergies

Symptoms of scalp eczema include red and scaly patches, flakiness, greasiness, itching, oozing lesions, and changes in skin color after healing.

Importantly, once someone becomes sensitized to Malassezia, the yeast will always cause an immune reaction. (7)

There’s some evidence that these medicines may bring relief from the cycle of itching and scratching for some people with atopic dermatitis. When taken by mouth, they can make you drowsy, so that you fall asleep more easily and hopefully scratch less when you’re asleep. Many over-the-counter and prescription-only options are available, each with slightly different dosing and side effects. Check with your doctor for a recommendation.

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