Seborrheic dermatitis is an inflammatory skin condition. It often affects the scalp, causing scaly, red patches. The patches may also appear on the face and upper part of the body. Affected areas may have a secretion of an oily substance into the hair follicles.
Seborrheic dermatitis (SD) is caused by an autoimmune response or allergy, and it is not contagious. It is also not curable but can be managed with treatment.
Treatment of SD is not always necessary, as symptoms can clear up naturally. But for most people, SD is a lifelong condition that will continue to flare up and clear up. Proper skin care can help keep symptoms at bay.
SD can cause a rash that is reddish in color, swollen, greasy, and has a white or yellowish crust.
There are two types of SD:
Cradle cap is common in babies. It causes scaly patches on the baby’s scalp that may be greasy or crusty.
Cradle cap is generally not harmful, and may go away without treatment within a few months. Some babies may get SD in the diaper area, which is usually mistaken for diaper rash.
In rare cases, SD may cover the entire body of the baby, causing red, scaly patches and inflamed skin.
Regardless of the form SD takes in infants, it tends to disappear permanently before the age of one. Choosing topical treatments for children under a year in age should be done in consultation with a doctor.
Adult seborrheic dermatitis
Adult SD is a condition that comes and goes throughout a person’s life. The weather and stress tend to trigger flare-ups. Treatment can reduce flares and bring some symptom relief.
SD is prevalent in 1-3 percent of the population, according to a report from the medical journal American Family Physician.
The causes of SD are unknown, but many people with the condition tend to have excessive yeast in their skin in affected areas.
Having certain medical conditions can raise the risk for SD. Other conditions that may put someone at risk for SD are:
Researchers think that genetics and hormones may play a role in the development of SD, but they have yet to identify any specific gene mutations related to the condition.
Stress, too much normal skin yeast, and cold, dry weather are also potential triggers for an SD flare-up.
SD symptoms tend to be worse during cold, dry weather seasons, or when someone is stressed.
A biopsy of the affected skin is usually done to rule out other conditions that can cause similar symptoms.
Symptoms of SD may include:
- dandruff, or flaking skin, on the scalp, hair, beard, mustache, or eyebrows
- greasy skin patches on the scalp, face, nose, eyelids, ears, chest, armpits, groin, and under the breasts
- red, inflamed skin
- itchy skin
SD triggers depend on skin type and sensitivity. When it comes to natural solutions, there is no one-size-fits-all option. Here are some natural remedies that may help keep SD symptoms at bay or treat flare-ups:
Good skin care
For SD on the body, especially the face, it is wise to keep affected areas clean by washing with soap and water every day.
Getting plenty of sunlight can also stop the growth of yeast that inflames skin, during a SD flare-up.
For scalp symptoms, adults can use over-the-counter dandruff shampoos that contain coal tar, salicylic acid, selenium sulfide, or zinc pyrithione.
Fish oil, which is high in omega-3 fatty acids, is known for its anti-inflammatory qualities. Studies have shown that taking fish oil supplements causes a reduction in the skin symptoms of various inflammatory skin conditions.
Fish oil is safe, provided it is taken as directed. Breastfeeding mothers should be aware that taking fish oil increases the level of omega-3 fatty acids in their breast milk. A person should talk to a doctor before supplementing a baby under the age of 1 year with omega-3 fatty acids.
Aloe vera also has anti-inflammatory properties, and research has shown that it is effective in treating SD. Aloe vera supplements can help suppress flare-ups and lessen their severity.
Do not give aloe vera supplements to children under age 10 years without first discussing the safety and dosage with a doctor.
Aloe vera is also used to treat constipation, so the supplements can have side effects, including:
- abdominal cramping
- urine discoloration
Topical use of aloe vera may also help manage redness and itching during SD flare-ups. Before using topical aloe vera, check for allergies by applying a small amount on a dime-sized spot of healthy skin. If there is no reaction within 12-24 hours, topical use should be safe.
Note that allergic reactions can develop over time. Discontinue the use of topical aloe vera if signs of an allergy appear.
Side effects of topical aloe vera can include:
- potential allergic reaction in people with skin sensitivity
Probiotics can boost the immune system and decrease inflammatory responses throughout the body. While research on the effects of probiotics on the number of SD flare-ups is limited, probiotics still promote healthier immune responses, so they might be worth trying.
Do not give children under age 1 year any products with probiotics, such as yogurt or oral supplements, as the effects for very young children have not been researched.
Tea tree oil
Tea tree oil has long been studied as a treatment for many skin conditions. It has antibacterial, antifungal, and anti-inflammatory qualities.
Topical use of tea tree oil is safe, but it should be diluted with a carrier oil, such as coconut or olive oil. Mix 3-5 drops of tea tree oil in 1 ounce of carrier oil before applying. This can help reduce itching and promote healing of scaly skin patches
Other essential oils
Evening primrose oil, borage oil, and black currant seed oil also contain properties that may help treat SD symptoms. They can help reduce itching and redness. These oils must be diluted with a carrier oil before application.
Use of essential oils in young children, babies, pregnant women, and breast-feeding mothers has not been studied in depth. Someone should only use essential oils on babies with serious caution and after consultation with a doctor.
Essential oils should not be swallowed and should only be used topically or from a diffuser.
Topical medicines are the most common treatment for SD flare-ups. These include:
- ointments, containing corticosteroids or hydrocortisone
These medicines can cause skin thinning with overuse, so doctors will only recommend them for short-term use. Supplementing these topical medicines with natural treatments can decrease side effects and may be better in the long term.
For SD on the scalp triggered by bacteria, antibacterial gels can be prescribed. Antifungal shampoos and creams are also options for this SD symptom.
Light therapy has been used in severe cases of SD. Light therapy involves exposing the affected areas of the skin or scalp to ultraviolent light.
SD is a lifelong condition that comes and goes. It is best controlled and managed with treatment.
There are many natural treatments that can add to medical treatments. For young children, someone should always talk to a doctor before using any of these products. This is because there is very little research on their effects and safety in children.
A person should always keep in mind that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not regulate herbs, essential oils, or supplements for their strength, quality, purity, or safety. So, it is important to read labels and research brands before buying.
Controlling risk factors and practicing good skin care can lessen the severity of SD.