Seborrheic dermatitis is the most common skin problem experienced by people living with HIV. While it only occurs in about 5% of the general population, it occurs in up to 90% of people with advanced HIV disease. While the cause is not entirely known, it is thought to be due to an excess of skin oil and a yeast called malassezia.

Other risk factors for seborrheic dermatitis include:

  • May run in families
  • Stress
  • Fatigue
  • Weather extremes
  • Oily skin
  • Infrequent shampooing or cleaning of the skin
  • Lotions or skin care products containing alcohol
  • Obesity
  • Other skin conditions, such as acne


  • White to yellowish flaky scales over pink patches of skin
  • May be itchy
  • Forms usually where skin is oily
  • Most common areas are scalp, eyelids and eyebrows, behind the ears, creases of the nose, beard, mid-chest, back, underarms, and groin
  • Hair loss


  • Over-the-counter dandruff or medicated shampoos
  • Antifungal creams, such as ketoconazole (requires prescription)
  • Corticosteroid creams, such as hydrocortisone
  • Antiretrovirals (HIV medications), if indicated
  • Even with treatment, seborrheic dermatitis may reoccur. Be certain to discuss reoccurrences with your provider and ask for refills on any prescription creams so that you will have them available if it does reoccur.

It is important to recognize that skin provides an important layer of protection against infection. Avoiding infections is important for people living with HIV. Many times, skin is damaged by years of exposure to the sun. Now is the time to begin giving your skin the care and protection it needs and deserves.

Treat your skin gently by doing the following tips:

  • Limit your time soaking in a hot bath or taking a hot shower. Hot water strips oils from the skin. Use warm water when bathing to retain those oils.
  • Use a liquid soap, which is usually less harsh on the skin. Soaps containing a moisturizer may also help relieve dry skin.
  • Apply body lotions or creams while skin is still damp from bathing or showering, which helps improve dry skin.
  • Use skin care lotions and creams that are fragrance free.
  • A cool lotion kept in the refrigerator may be soothing to itchy skin.
  • Add moisture to the air. During winter, air can become dry, so use a humidifier or heat a pot of water until you see steam and keep at a low temperature to add humidity.
  • When shaving, face or legs, use a lotion or shaving cream to protect your skin.

A healthy diet can also help your skin. Research suggests that a diet rich in vitamin C and low in carbohydrates and fats may improve your skin. Also eat foods that contain veggies, whole grains, and lean proteins.