Seborrheic dermatitis is a skin condition that causes an itchy, flaky rash to develop on the scalp, face, or other parts of the body. Many people call it dandruff. Rarely, a person can experience temporary hair loss with seborrheic dermatitis.
In this article, find out more about seborrheic dermatitis and how it may cause hair loss.
We also outline the treatment options available for this condition.
Seborrheic dermatitis is an inflammatory skin condition that occurs as a result of a particular yeast on the skin. The sebaceous glands produce a type of oil called sebum, which the yeast thrives on.
Several factors may give rise to an overgrowth of this yeast, such as excess sebum on the scalp. The result is inflammation, which manifests as flaking, itching, and some redness on the skin.
Hair loss is not common in seborrheic dermatitis. If it does occur, it is likely from scratching and rubbing the scalp, as it can be very itchy.
In very rare cases, inflammation may also affect the hair follicles and cause temporary hair loss. In these situations, the hair loss is not permanent and will eventually grow back if the person takes steps to control the inflammation.
Certain factors can trigger a flare-up. These include:
- aggressive topical therapy
Seborrheic dermatitis is not infectious, so people cannot catch it from another person.
Any hair loss that occurs as a result of seborrheic dermatitis is usually reversible.
Typically, the hair will grow back once a person has received treatment for the inflammation that triggered the hair loss and stopped scratching or rubbing the scalp.
When there is significant or scarring hair loss, it may not be due to the seborrheic dermatitis. Seborrheic dermatitis can co-exist with other scalp conditions, many of which — such as androgenic alopecia — can cause hair loss.
In infants, seborrheic dermatitis usually clears up by itself without treatment. In adults, it tends to be a chronic condition. This means that people may have flare-ups of seborrheic dermatitis throughout their life.
However, there are certain treatments that can help reduce symptoms during a flare-up. The sections below discuss the treatment options for seborrheic dermatitis.
Although treatment will not completely cure seborrheic dermatitis, it can help alleviate some of the symptoms.
People may be able to treat mild cases of seborrheic dermatitis using natural home remedies, such as aloe vera and tea tree oil. However, these options should not replace conventional treatments, many of which are over available over the counter.
A person who experiences frequent or severe flare-ups may require prescription treatments from their doctor.
One older study from 1999 used a double-blind, placebo-controlled trial to investigate the effects of aloe vera on seborrheic dermatitis.
Over the course of 4–6 weeks, 44 adults with seborrheic dermatitis applied one of two treatments to their scalp twice per day. One group applied an aloe vera ointment, while the other applied a placebo.
Those applying the aloe vera ointment reported a 62% improvement in symptoms, whereas those in the placebo group reported a 25% improvement. The researchers concluded that aloe vera extract is successful in the treatment of seborrheic dermatitis.
The following over-the-counter (OTC) treatments may help alleviate seborrheic dermatitis flare-ups as well as keep the condition under control. Some of the treatments outlined below are suitable for infants, while others are suitable for adolescents and adults.
People can buy baby shampoos formulated to treat scalp conditions in infants. These may contain mineral oil.
To treat seborrheic dermatitis in infants, the American Academy of Dermatology suggest:
- using baby shampoo on the scalp daily
- gently brushing away scaly skin as it becomes softer
- applying OTC seborrheic dermatitis medication to the scalp
For adolescents and adults
Certain shampoos contain specific formulas to help treat seborrheic dermatitis in adolescents and adults. These include shampoos for treating dandruff, as well as shampoos containing the following ingredients:
- selenium sulfide
- pyrithione zinc
- salicylic acid
- coal tar
People can also buy OTC shampoos containing a class of antifungal drug called azoles. One example of this is ketoconazole (Nizoral). A person should ask their pharmacist for advice on how and when to use the shampoo.
In some cases, a pharmacist may advise a person to alternate between the treatment shampoo and their regular shampoo. People may eventually be able to reduce their use of the treatment shampoo to once or twice per week.
Some people may experience severe or frequent flare-ups of seborrheic dermatitis that do not respond to OTC treatments.
In such cases, a person should see their doctor or dermatologist. They may recommend a corticosteroid solution to help reduce scalp inflammation or a stronger, prescription-strength shampoo.
Some adults may also find that their seborrheic dermatitis clears up without treatment. However, most adults with the condition will experience flare-ups for many years. Using preventive treatments such as antidandruff shampoos can help prevent and treat flare-ups.
In very rare and severe cases, seborrheic dermatitis may result in some hair loss. This tends to be reversible.
However, hair loss is not common in seborrheic dermatitis. If there is significant hair loss, it may be due to another cause that might require medical treatment.
There are many effective treatment options that can relieve the symptoms of seborrheic dermatitis and treat the inflammation it causes.
Using OTC antidandruff or medicated shampoos can help treat the symptoms of seborrheic dermatitis. People with severe or persistent seborrheic dermatitis should see their doctor to discuss other treatment options.