Are there Eczema Symptoms on the Scalp?

are there eczema symptoms on the scalp

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Do you suffer from an itchy, red scalp that sheds skin and flakes into your hair and down onto your shoulders? You might assume you’ve got a case of
dandruff or, worse, that you’re suffering from eczema. The first part of that assumption is correct. The second is a bit more complicated.

The short answer to “Are there eczema symptoms on the scalp?” is “no.” Atopic dermatitis, the condition most frequently associated with classic eczema, rarely presents on the scalp. It can happen, but far more often, the cause of red, flaky skin beneath your hair is seborrheic dermatitis, also known as cradle cap in babies.

The longer answer is significantly longer, which is why we’ve written this post.

Seborrheic Dermatitis vs. Atopic Dermatitis

All varieties of dermatitis are technically eczema. From that perspective, dandruff, or seborrheic dermatitis, is a type of eczema. 

Atopic Dermatitis

Symptoms of atopic dermatitis, eczema’s classic presentation, include 

  • Dry skin 
  • Itchy skin
  • Inflammation
  • Raised bumps
  • Thick or scaly skin
  • Red and irritated rashes appear on the face, hands, feet, outside or inside the elbows, and behind or in front of the knees. 

Atopic dermatitis is generally caused by gaps in the skin’s protective layer, which let moisture out and pathogens in. Flare-ups can be triggered by abrasion, harsh cleaning products, household chemicals, and allergic reactions.

You can avoid flare-ups by switching to mild cleansers like an eczema shampoo and body wash that doesn’t contain harsh chemicals, dyes, preservatives, or fragrances. Both children and adults can also benefit from moisturizing using a baby eczema cream that’s equally free of unwanted and unnecessary chemical additives.

Seborrheic Dermatitis

Seborrheic dermatitis usually causes 

  • Flaky skin
  • Yellow or white scaly patches
  • Inflammation
  • Redness
  • Greasy flakes

It can look similar to atopic dermatitis, but it’s caused by an overabundance of Malassezia yeast growth across the surface of the skin or an improper immune response. Treatments include dandruff shampoos, topical antifungals, and steroid lotions. Only the last of these is recommended for atopic dermatitis as well.

These differences are why doctors don’t generally lump all types of dermatitis into a single eczema category. Their causes and treatments are different and require more specific diagnoses.

Can Eczema Symptoms Appear on the Scalp?

So Dandruff is Technically Eczema, But Most Doctors Don’t Treat it That Way

Yes, it’s complicated, we know. Here’s the takeaway. While all types of dermatitis are technically eczema, atopic dermatitis is the variety that doctors most commonly associate with the word “Eczema.” 

Atopic dermatitis rarely occurs on the scalp. Therefore, doctors don’t generally diagnose eczema on the scalp. They specifically diagnose seborrheic dermatitis instead, which better focuses treatment. In children, the most common presentation of seborrheic dermatitis on the scalp is frequently referred to as “cradle cap.”

So, are there eczema symptoms on the scalp? Technically, yes, but in practice, no. 

When your doctor discusses scalp eczema, they most likely refer to seborrheic dermatitis. Atopic dermatitis causes classic eczema, while seborrheic dermatitis causes dandruff.

More often than not, seborrheic dermatitis doesn’t require a doctor’s visit and can be treated with simple, over-the-counter dandruff preparations. However, if you’re nervous that there’s more to your dry, flaky scalp than simple dandruff, you should consult your doctor to get a more specific diagnosis.

What is Scalp Eczema?

Scalp eczema is basically another name for seborrheic dermatitis (cradle cap) on the scalp. When the scaling, flaking, and inflammation appear on the scalp only, it is also classified as scalp eczema. 

So when you hear the word eczema, you may think of dry, itchy, cracked rashes, but in reality, it is actually the yellow or white thick, greasy scaling and flaking caused on the scalp by seborrheic dermatitis. 

How to Treat Seborrheic Dermatitis (Cradle Cap) on the Scalp?

The best way to treat scalp eczema or seborrheic dermatitis is by using an anti-dandruff shampoo. A medicated shampoo that contains pyrithione zinc as an active ingredient can reduce the scaling, flaking, and inflammation associated with seborrheic dermatitis, also referred to as cradle cap in babies. 

  • Wash the scalp daily with a cradle cap shampoo.
  • While shampooing, gently massage the scalp with fingertips, a washcloth, or a cradle cap brush
  • Leave the shampoo on the scalp for a minute or two before rinsing off.
  • Make sure you wash the scalp properly and leave no residue behind.
  • When the scaling and flaking are reduced, use the cradle cap shampoo 2 to 3 times a week. 

Try Happy Cappy Medicated Shampoo For Cradle Cap. It is the first OTC shampoo and body wash made specially for babies and children of all ages. It contains the active ingredient pyrithione zinc, which has been known to be effective in controlling the growth of Malassezia yeast and relieving the scaling and flaking associated with seborrheic dermatitis.

It contains 95% natural ingredients and avoids skin-irritating ingredients like fragrances, sulfate, paraben, and dyes. 

For best results, use it with Happy Cappy Cradle Cap Brush. Use it while shampooing to gently massage the scalp in a circular motion and remove excess scales from the scalp. You can also use this brush when the baby’s scalp is dry to massage it and promote relaxation and blood flow to the scalp. 


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Dr. Eddie Valenzuela is an award winning pediatrician and the founder and CEO of Pediatric Solutions, LLC.

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Why is my scalp itchy and flaky?

A few conditions may cause your scalp to become dry, itchy, and flaky. Seborrheic dermatitis, also known as cradle cap in babies, and dandruff are the usual conditions.

Are dandruff and eczema the same?

Dandruff, also known as seborrheic dermatitis, is a type of eczema. But doctors don’t associate it with eczema. Dandruff and eczema are two different conditions with different causes and symptoms.

What is the difference between infantile seborrheic dermatitis and atopic dermatitis?

Both conditions may belong to the dermatitis family and may have similar symptoms, but both conditions are very different. Infantile seborrheic dermatitis, more commonly known as cradle cap, is caused by overactive sebaceous glands and causes the skin to become greasy, crusty, and scaly. Atopic dermatitis or eczema is caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors and causes the skin to become red, itchy, dry, and irritated.

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