Eczema is a skin condition caused by a deficiency of oils and moisture in the skin. Healthy skin maintains its balance of these components, creating an effective barrier to environmental damage, irritation, and infection. Scalp eczema can be caused by either seborrheic or atopic (inherited) dermatitis. It is also known as dandruff, seborrheic dermatitis, seborrheic psoriasis, and (in infants) “cradle cap.”

These types of dermatitis may also cause eczema on the face, chest, back, under the arms, and in the groin region. While they can cause discomfort and embarrassment, these types of dermatitis aren’t contagious, and they aren’t caused by poor hygiene. If you understand the causes and symptoms of scalp eczema, you may be able to treat or heal your scalp.


  1. Look for common symptoms.

Scalp eczema can cause problems for your scalp or any affected areas of your skin. Common symptoms include flaky skin (dandruff), itching, red skin, scaliness or crusting of the skin, greasy patches, and hair loss.

  • Inflammation leads to red patches and high fatty acid content, which can make the skin greasy and yellow in some people.
  • In infants, it is common in the scalp and can present as red, dry scaly plaques, or in more severe cases as thick white or greasy yellow scales.
  • Other skin diseases such as fungal infection, psoriasis, dermatitis, and lupus may resemble scalp eczema. However, these differ based on the location and layers of the skin involved.
  • If you aren’t sure whether your symptoms match those of scalp eczema, see your doctor. S/he can help you determine the cause of your symptoms and whether they are severe enough to require treatment.

 2. Know the causes of eczema.

In addition to decreased oils and moisture present, doctors believe that a certain kind of yeast, Malassezia furfur, has a role in causing seborrheic eczema.Malassezia yeast is usually present on the outer surface of the skin. In those with scalp eczema, this yeast invades the superficial layers of skin and secretes substances that increase fatty acid production. This leads to inflammation and enhances production and dryness of skin, which causes the skin to flake.

  • If your eczema is atopic, meaning that your family has a tendency to develop eczema, yeast may not be the culprit. Doctors believe that many people with atopic eczema have a faulty skin barrier due to a changed gene within the skin’s structural proteins.


3. Determine your risk factors.

While doctors are not certain why some people develop seborrheic eczema, and others don’t, there do appear to be some factors that increase your risk, including:

  • Being overweight or obese
  • Fatigue
  • Environmental factors (such as dry weather)
  • Stress
  • Other skin issues (such as acne)
  • Certain medical conditions, including stroke, HIV, Parkinson’s disease, or head injury


4. Avoid hair and skin care products that contain alcohol.

Alcohol removes protective oils from the skin surface, causing the scalp to dry out. This can make the flaking and itching worse and may be a contributing cause of seborrheic eczema.

  • Be gentle with washing your skin and scalp. Do not scrub! Gently massage your skin with your fingers when washing your hair. The goal is to clean your hair without stripping the oils from your scalp.


5. Do not scratch itchy patches.

Though it can be difficult to avoid scratching when a part of your body feels dry and itchy, you should try not to scratch the affected areas because the skin can become irritated and bleed.

  • You could even cause a secondary infection if you scratch excessively.


6. Expect eczema to return.

It is unlikely that you will be able to completely “cure” your disease with an effective treatment. Scalp eczema appears and then disappears when it is treated. However, it usually comes back and will require continuous treatment. Luckily, many of the treatments can be continued for long periods

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