Seborrheic Dermatitis and Psoriasis: How to Tell the Difference

By Leah Campbell
Reviewed by Allison Truong, M.D.
May 08, 2023

There are many possible conditions that can make skin dry, red, and flaky. Two common conditions that may look alike but are quite different are psoriasis and seborrheic dermatitis. Here, we discuss the causes of these conditions, how to tell them apart, and what to do if you have either—or both.

What Are Seborrheic Dermatitis and Psoriasis, Exactly?

“Seborrheic Dermatitis is a very common condition that presents as dryness, scaling, and flaking of the scalp,” says Ife Rodney, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist and dermatopathologist at Eternal Dermatology + Aesthetics in Fulton, Maryland. Seborrheic dermatitis can also show up on the face, Rodney says. The appearance may closely resemble psoriasis, which also appears in the same areas. However, psoriasis is an auto-inflammatory condition, in which the body overproduces skin cells.

“A main difference lies in the fact that psoriasis is a systemic condition, meaning that it can also affect our bodies internally,” Rodney explains. Psoriasis has been linked to multiple comorbidities, such as obesity, cardiovascular disease (like heart disease and stroke), diabetes, and depression. Also, people with psoriasis may develop psoriatic arthritis, which presents as red, swollen, tender joints, usually on the fingers and toes.