Scalp eczema

Seborrhoeic eczema (dermatitis) is one of the most common types of eczema seen on the scalp and hairline. It makes your skin red, itchy and scaly. The scales are either yellow and greasy or white and dry. Both children and adults can get scalp eczema. It is common for infants to get scalp eczema, but then it is called “cradle cap”.


It isn’t clear what causes scalp eczema, but it may be due in part to:


  • genetics
  • hormonal changes
  • abnormal responses from the immune system to something that is eaten or comes in contact with the skin, similar to a type of allergic reaction
  • hypersensitivity to a skin fungus called Malassezia, found on the skin and scalp.


Scalp eczema, or seborrheic dermatitis, produces symptoms such as itching, burning and scales of the skin. The scales are either yellow and greasy or white and dry.


Scalp eczema occurs in the places where many sebaceous glands are located. It includes not only scalp, but also face, nose, eyebrows, and eyelids. Eczema begins on the scalp as dandruff and becomes greasy and blistered. Eczema may be patchy, but it can also cover the entire scalp and may even involve the forehead. The patches can become infected and then begin to release fluid.


Seborrheic dermatitis usually develops during puberty or well into adulthood. In adults, eczema can come and go for many years. When you have scalp eczema you may notice that it gets better in the summer and worse in the winter or when you are stressed.

Scalp eczema in children and infants

When infants have seborrheic dermatitis, it is known as Cradle cap. causing extremely thick and flaky skin on a baby’s scalp. The scalp becomes red and irritated with yellow fatty scales or flakes. Cradle cap isn’t pretty, but it is harmless. It’s not caused by poor hygiene or allergies, and probably doesn’t bother your baby at all. It is most common in babies up to 3 months old, and usually improves between 8 and 12 months of age. 


Unless the cradle cap is bothersome, it is fine to leave it alone. You can speed up recovery by washing your baby’s hair once a day with mild baby shampoo, then loosening the scales with a small, soft-bristled brush or fine-toothed comb before rinsing off the shampoo. Be careful not to pick or scrape at the flakes. For easier combing, you can gently lubricate the baby’s head with baby oil and let it work overnight.


If the rash worsens or lasts for more than two weeks with treatment, you can consult a pediatrician.

Prevention and protection

Each case is individual, but you can learn what factors may contribute to your scalp eczema and then limit your contact or avoid them entirely. It can also help to:


  • Wash your hair with warm — not hot or cold — water. Both hot and cold water can dry out your scalp and cause irritation.
  • If your eczema isn’t the result of an avoidable irritant or environmental trigger, dandruff shampoo may be beneficial.
  • When the scales itch or burn, you can relieve the symptoms by using cotton clothes and when you are out in the sun – don’t forget to use sunscreen.
  • various non-prescription drugs can help. You will find them at pharmacies. You can use special antifungal shampoos, creams and gels. They may also contain cortisone. Ask which product suits you best.


If non-prescription drugs do not help, there are various medications that can be prescribed by doctors, following individual assessment.


These include topical corticosteroid creams or antifungal medications.


For contact dermatitis, you may want to try an antihistamine if the product you encountered caused an allergic reaction. Treating the skin may require a topical corticosteroid. Your doctor may prescribe an oral steroid if your scalp eczema is severe.


If your eczema has become infected, your doctor will prescribe an antibiotic in topical or oral form.

When to consult a doctor

If lifestyle changes and over-the-counter (OTC) medications aren’t enough, see your doctor. Also see your doctor if you’re experiencing severe pain, swelling, or other unusual symptoms.


If your baby has cradle cap and the areas are raw and painful, or if the rash worsens or lasts for more than two weeks with treatment, contact your pediatrician for further guidance.

How APPOTEK can help

APPOTEK can help you with scalp eczema. In the initial consultation, a nurse or a physician will make a diagnosis, then may prescribe treatment or refer you for further examination.


Valeria Chernikova, Neurologist, M.D.