The Impact of Seborrheic Dermatitis


Dermatologists discuss the profound impact of seborrheic dermatitis on an individual’s quality of life, discussing self-reported effects on self-esteem, social interactions, and career trajectories.


Linda Stein Gold, MD: James, coming back to some of the things you were talking about in patients with skin of color; with a lot of patients, when they have seborrheic dermatitis, it’s visible. It affects those areas that we can see. It affects the face. It affects the scalp. They see flaking. Can you comment a little bit about the overall impact on quality of life?

James Song, MD: It’s surprising that a condition as common as seborrheic dermatitis [that] we haven’t had like a large, dedicated study looking at the impact seborrheic dermatitis has on quality of life, until recently. This was done in part with the Harris Poll, asking hundreds of patients who had seborrheic dermatitis, what’s the real impact this has on your quality of life? I think what was really striking that many of these patients actually self-reported that their disease was moderate to severe in nature, and that’s far more than what we saw the health care providers reporting. There’s a disconnector for sure. But itching, redness, flaking, those are the common symptoms, and I agree with Neal that itching isn’t probably as prevalent as we see with atopic dermatitis but still very burdensome symptoms. Oftentimes this is what really brings them to the clinic. The other aspect though is the mental impact this has. Many of these patients state that it affects their self-esteem; they’re anxious, they’re depressed. It affects their social interactions both professionally and socially. In one of the most memorable statements in that survey I read was that about 60% of patients felt that they would have been further along in their careers had they not had seborrheic dermatitis. I think that was really moving.

Neal Bhatia, MD: Back in the day of commercials, they had the heartbreak of psoriasis, the curse of seborrhea. Those are the big reminders of how important this is, and then, of course, the black shirts wiping dandruff off.

James Song, MD: Sure.

Linda Stein Gold, MD: We can’t underestimate the impact that a skin disease has on the way people perceive us. You can hide our internal diseases, but unfortunately, our skin diseases, you walk into a room and that’s what presents itself first. So people aren’t looking at your smile, they’re not looking at your eyes, they’re looking at what in the world is wrong with your skin, and why is it like that and why didn’t you wash your hair, and why didn’t get rid of those flakes. It’s not that easy. This has kind of been a devastating condition.

Transcript was AI-generated and edited for clarity.

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Jonathan Silverberg, MD, PhD, MPH | Credit: George Washington University
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