Does seborrheic dermatitis spread? Is it contagious? Many people wonder, including reader Rebecca
Hello Dr. Bailey, I am curious about the potential of seborrheic dermatitis (dandruff) to spread. If it does spread then can you tell me how this happens? Also, if someone has it in one place, is it likely they will get it in another? Thank you, Rebecca B
Hello Rebecca, Seborrheic dermatitis (aka dandruff) spreads out from its areas of initial involvement, but it’s not because of contagion. Like many rashes, dandruff starts small and gets bigger.
There are 3 areas of skin that are prone to seborrheic dermatitis.
If you have it on one area you may get it on another. These are:
- face, and
- the body skin of the back/chest and skin folds.
Seborrheic dermatitis is a rash that spreads but is not contagious.
We don’t know what causes seborrheic dermatitis and so we don’t know why it does what it does when it does it….. it’s just what it does. We do know that it’s more likely to do it in the fall and winter.
Dandruff usually occurs on the scalp where it’s important to differentiate it from ‘ring worm’ of the scalp (fungus infection), psoriasis and other more ‘exotic’ scalp rashes.
What does scalp dandruff look like?
- There may be dry flakes of skin over well-defined but subtle red areas
- the dandruff may just look like ‘dry scalp’ with flakes and no redness
- The dandruff may cover the entire scalp or it may be localized to certain areas.
What is the fastest way to treat scalp dandruff?
For my patients with scalp seborrhea, I start treatment with my zinc pyrithione shampoo and body cleanser called Foaming Zinc Cleanser.
This is a great professional strength, medicated shampoo with the highest level of pyrithione zinc allowed, which is 2%. It is also an excellent back and chest acne cleanser. I’ve used it for years to control my own scalp’s tendency for dandruff. Combine it with the scalp scrubber (available on the same page as Foaming Zinc) to help lift and remove scalp flakes from dandruff.
If the medicated pyrithione zinc alone doesn’t do the trick then we rotate through 3 different medicated shampoo ingredients as I outlined in my scalp dandruff treatment post titled Remedies For The Dry Itchy Scalp Of Seborrheic Dermatitis. In that post I also explain how to use medicated shampoos most effectively for successful treatment of stubborn dandruff.
Seborrheic dermatitis on the face often starts as flaking in eyebrows, around nose and chin with or without red patches on the skin.
On the face, dandruff usually starts around the nose, eyebrows and chin. It works out from there to the forehead, mid cheeks and in front of the ears.
Facial seborrheic dermatitis is often mistaken as skin dryness because of the flaking. People tend to put gobs of moisturizer on the rash, to no avail. Treatment needs to target the rash and my favorite way to do this is with the products in my Facial Flaking and Redness Solution Kit.
My Facial Flaking and Redness Solution Kit includes 3 key products to heal facial dandruff:
pyrithione zinc containing facial soap (Calming Zinc),
- Green Tea Antioxidant Skin Therapy (which soothes inflammation, and
- the right facial moisturizer to heal the skin barrier damage that occurs with active facial seborrhea).
I have suffered from seborrheic dermatitis & rosacea for more than 20 years. After using these products for one week, my dry scales are gone & the redness from my rosacea is gone. No more itchy and stinging facial skin. Also, slowly but surely the bumps associated with my rosacea are disappearing. I’m sold & will be a repeat customer. Tamara
I have additional skin care suggestions for facial dandruff and you can find them in my post titled Dr. Cynthia Bailey’s Tips For Facial Seborrheic Dermatitis Control.
Dandruff can also involve the mid chest and back and even the skin folds.
For chest and back treatment I recommend the same Foaming Zinc Cleanser used with a Salux Shower Cloth in the shower. Seborrheic dermatitis in the skin folds can be addressed by cleansing the skin with Foaming Zinc and a soft wash cloth.
Author: Dr. Cynthia Bailey M.D. is a Board-Certified dermatologist practicing dermatology since 1987. She has done well over 200,000 skin exams during her career and authors the longest running physician written skin health blog in the world.
“I love empowering people to take good care of their skin by educating them and putting the ‘self-care’ into their skin care so that they love the skin they’re in!” Dr. Bailey