There are several types of eczema. Seborrheic dermatitis is a type of eczema that causes flaky, oily patches of skin. However, the most common type is atopic dermatitis, which causes dry, itchy, inflamed patches of skin.

Seborrheic dermatitis typically affects areas where there are a lot of oil glands, such as the face and scalp. In contrast, atopic dermatitis can appear anywhere. Sometimes, the skin may crack and bleed.

People can have just one type of eczema, or they can have both. Read on to learn more about the differences between seborrheic dermatitis vs. eczema.

Eczema is a group of conditions that cause skin inflammation. Atopic dermatitis refers to the most common type, which many people refer to simply as eczema.

Atopic dermatitis causes dry, inflamed, itchy patches of skin. These patches can develop blisters or peel. Sometimes, the skin can crack open and bleed.

Seborrheic dermatitis is a different type of eczema that causes scaly patches of skin that feel waxy or oily. It often appears on areas of the body that produce natural skin oils, such as the scalp, behind the ears, or on the face.

In babies, seborrheic dermatitis can cause cradle cap, which causes flaky yellow or flesh-colored patches on the head. Seborrheic dermatitis can also cause dandruff.

Learn more about eczema on the scalp.

Atopic and seborrheic dermatitis can have a similar appearance, as both cause inflamed, itchy skin patches. Some crucial differences between the two conditions include the following:

  • Location: Seborrheic dermatitis typically occurs on oily areas of the body, such as the scalp, face, chest, or behind the ears. Atopic dermatitis may appear anywhere.
  • Skin oils: Atopic dermatitis looks dry and dull, but seborrheic dermatitis looks oily or waxy.
  • Flaking: Atopic dermatitis may cause the skin to peel or flake. Significant scaling or flaking is a hallmark of seborrheic dermatitis.
  • Color: In lighter skin tones, atopic dermatitis appears red, and in darker skin tones, it can be purple or dark brown. Seborrheic dermatitis can be faintly red, but not always. In people with darker skin tones, the rash may be lighter than the surrounding skin. The scales may be white or yellowish.

Learn about seborrheic dermatitis on the chest.

Yes, people can have both seborrheic dermatitis and atopic dermatitis at the same time. It is common for infants to have both types.

However, adults with seborrheic dermatitis are more likely to have a history of psoriasis rather than atopic dermatitis.

Seborrheic and atopic dermatitis may affect different areas of the body simultaneously. For example, a person might have seborrheic dermatitis on their scalp, while atopic dermatitis affects their arms or legs.

Some estimates indicate that 3–10% of adults develop seborrheic dermatitis, while others suggest that 2–10% of adults and 15–30% of children develop atopic dermatitis.

Learn about the differences between seborrheic dermatitis and psoriasis.

Both types of eczema are multifactorial, meaning multiple factors contribute to them. However, the factors for each are slightly different.

Researchers believe that seborrheic dermatitis occurs when a fungus known as Malassezia interacts with oils on the skin, causing an inflammatory reaction.

However, this fungus alone does not necessarily mean a person will get seborrheic dermatitis. Other factors may contribute, such as:

On the other hand, atopic dermatitis is more common in people with allergies and asthma.

Scientists believe it occurs due to an impaired skin barrier, which allows too much moisture to escape. It may also be due to reactions from the immune system.

Genetics, stress, and the bacteria that live on the skin also influence the development of atopic dermatitis.

Learn more about the links between asthma and atopic dermatitis.

There are no specific tests for eczema, so doctors diagnose both seborrheic and atopic dermatitis based on the skin’s appearance and a person’s medical history.

If it is unclear which type of eczema a person has, they may perform a skin biopsy, which involves taking a small skin sample to examine it.

If a doctor thinks a specific allergen is worsening symptoms, they may suggest an allergy test.

Learn about different types of eczema and diagnosis.

Because these types of eczema have differing causes, they also have different treatments.

Treatment for atopic dermatitis focuses on restoring moisture to the skin and calming inflammation. This may involve:

Treatment for seborrheic dermatitis can also involve corticosteroid cream, but it also directly targets the Malassezia fungus that exacerbates symptoms. This may involve:

  • antifungal shampoo or cream
  • salicylic acid treatments, which remove scales
  • products containing tar

Learn about some natural treatments for seborrheic dermatitis.

Atopic dermatitis and seborrheic dermatitis are both types of eczema. They can look similar, but typically, atopic dermatitis looks dry and inflamed, and seborrheic appears greasy and flaky. Seborrheic dermatitis also tends to affect oily body areas, such as the scalp, face, chest, or skin folds.

People who have persistent skin symptoms, such as itchiness or inflammation, should speak with a doctor. A doctor can diagnose these conditions based on their appearance, location, and a person’s medical history. People can find a doctor using the AAD’s Find a Dermatologist tool.