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How Can I Tell the Difference between Seborrheic Dermatitis and Psoriasis?

Nicole Madison
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Seborrheic dermatitis and psoriasis are both conditions marked by reddened skin with scales. This often makes them difficult to distinguish from one another. They are different, however, when it comes to the appearance of the scales and the parts of the body on which they are most common. These skin conditions also differ when it comes to how challenging the scales are to remove and in regard to certain other symptoms, such as joint stiffness. As far as similarities are concerned, however, they can both cause you to feel itchy and sore but neither is contagious.

You may have a difficult time telling the difference between seborrheic dermatitis and psoriasis because the two are similar in appearance. They are both marked by the appearance of scales. If you have either of these skin conditions, your skin is likely to become reddened and covered with scales. When you have psoriasis, however, the scales often take on a silvery look while seborrheic dermatitis, also referred to as seborrhea, is often marked by scales that appear yellow or white.

Other differences in the scales of these conditions involve oiliness and removal. If you have seborrhea, the scales may appear greasy, for instance. Likewise, the scales you develop because of seborrhea often prove easy to remove while those that appear because of psoriasis may bleed if you attempt to remove them.

A major difference between seborrheic dermatitis and psoriasis is often location: both of these skin conditions commonly affect the scalp, but seborrheic dermatitis usually stays within the hairline while psoriasis is the more likely of the two to extend beyond the hairline. They can, however, affect other parts of the body as well. For instance, psoriasis can affect any area of skin on the body, but is most likely to form on your back, elbows, and knees. Seborrhea, on the other hand, is most likely to affect the back, face, and upper chest. Additionally, other areas of your body that have numerous oil glands may prove vulnerable to its effects.

Both seborrheic dermatitis and psoriasis can be uncomfortable. Each of these conditions can cause the skin in the affected areas to feel itchy and sore. Psoriasis, however, is often associated with swelling of the joints as well. You may also notice that this condition causes your joints to feel stiff. Additionally, both of these conditions may cause you to feel embarrassed about your appearance, but neither is contagious.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Nicole Madison
By Nicole Madison
Nicole Madison's love for learning inspires her work as a The Health Board writer, where she focuses on topics like homeschooling, parenting, health, science, and business. Her passion for knowledge is evident in the well-researched and informative articles she authors. As a mother of four, Nicole balances work with quality family time activities such as reading, camping, and beach trips.
Discussion Comments
By turquoise — On Jul 27, 2013

@ankara-- Seborrheic dermatitis causes yellow flakes, not white. If you have red patches and flakes on your elbows, it's definitely not seborrheic dermatitis. Dermatitis doesn't really cause patches and it doesn't affect the joints/limbs.

By burcidi — On Jul 26, 2013

@ankara-- I'm not a doctor and I'm sure that even a doctor can't diagnose you without actually seeing you. You have to see a dermatologist who can analyze your symptoms. It's hard for you and I to tell apart seborrheic dermatitis and psoriasis, but doctors see these all the time and they're good at telling them apart. I think they can also do a biopsy to confirm the condition if they're not sure.

If you ask my opinion, it might be psoriasis, especially if you don't have a rash on your scalp and if the flaking is concentrated around your joints, like your elbows. I think if you had seborrheic dermatitis on your face, it would have also affected your scalp.

Like I said though, I'm not a medical professional, so do your own research and see a doctor.

By bluedolphin — On Jul 26, 2013

I have flaky and itchy skin on my face, arms and hands. The flakes look pale/white and they are very thin and come off easily. Is this seborrheic dermatitis or psoriasis? It sounds like dermatitis right?

Nicole Madison
Nicole Madison
Nicole Madison's love for learning inspires her work as a The Health Board writer, where she focuses on topics like...
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