A Comprehensive Guide to Managing and Treating Seborrheic Dermatitis

February 9, 2024

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Seborrheic dermatitis, also known as seborrheic eczema, is a common chronic skin condition that causes red, itchy, flaky skin. Seborrheic dermatitis cannot be permanently “removed” or cured, but with consistent, proper treatment, symptoms can often be controlled and managed successfully over the long term.

This comprehensive guide covers all aspects of recognizing, treating, and living with seborrheic dermatitis. Key topics include:

  • What triggers seborrheic dermatitis flare-ups
  • Medical treatment options
  • Natural home remedies and lifestyle adjustments
  • Frequently asked questions about managing seborrheic dermatitis
  • Summary of best practices for symptom relief

What Causes Seborrheic Dermatitis Outbreaks

Seborrheic dermatitis involves a sensitivity to normal yeast (malassezia) on the skin’s surface. While the exact mechanisms behind flare-ups are unknown, these factors appear contributory:

Oil & Skin Cell Buildup

Areas dense in oil glands like the scalpface, upper back, and chest tend to develop seborrheic dermatitis plaques due to excess skin cell turnover and sebum interacting with yeast.

Weather & Other Triggers

  • Cold, dry air
  • Skin irritation from harsh soaps or care products
  • Emotional stress
  • Fatigue or sleep deprivation
  • Skin folds and moisture-trapping clothing
  • For infants, hormonal changes as oil glands develop

Paying attention to individual flare triggers can help in avoiding outbreaks. Recording suspected factors during an active rash helps identify patterns.

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Medications to Treat Seborrheic Dermatitis Symptoms

While no medication eliminates seborrheic dermatitis entirely, various prescription and over-the-counter treatments aim to control annoying symptoms like scaling, redness and itching during periodic flare-ups:

Medicated Antifungal Shampoos

Ketoconazole, selenium sulfide, pyrithione zinc, salicylic acid, and tar derivatives found in specialty dandruff shampoos reduce yeast overgrowth and inflammation when used regularly. Rotating among antifungal active ingredients may prevent fungal resistance.

  • Ketoconazole – Fights skin yeast plus anti-inflammatory
  • Coal tar – Slows skin cell turnover to curb flaking
  • Salicylic acid – Loosens skin scales and soothes irritation

Using these shampoos 2-3 times weekly helps maintain remission, or use daily during flare-ups. Let lather sit for 5+ minutes before rinsing.

Topical Antifungal Creams

Apply over-the-counter antifungal creams containing clotrimazole or similar antifungal directly on seborrheic dermatitis plaques once or twice daily as needed. This is often adequate for mild outbreaks.

Topical Corticosteroids

For more stubborn plaques resistant to antifungal creams alone, prescription ointments containing steroids (commonly fluocinonide or desonide) reduce inflammation and calm itching. Use intermittently only as they can thin skin with prolonged use.


Natural OTC Remedies for Seborrheic Dermatitis Treatment

A number of home remedy approaches show promise in lessening seborrheic dermatitis when used with traditional treatment:

  • Tea tree oil – Apply 5% solutions to affected areas for anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial benefits
  • Apple cider vinegar – Antifungal, helps restore normal acidity to skin
  • Probiotics – Oral supplements help balance gut and skin microflora
  • Aloe vera gel – Improves skin moisture retention
  • Oregano and thyme essential oils – Carry compounds that combat malassezia yeast

While not all clinical evidence is unanimous, these natural remedies are generally well-tolerated accompanied by standard medicinal therapies.

Adjusting Habits and Skincare for Seborrheic Dermatitis Management

Since seborrheic dermatitis involves a person’s individual threshold for yeast growth and skin irritation, tailoring daily habits can improve control:

Keeping Scalp and Skin Clean

  • Use a fragrance-free cleanser instead of typical scented bar soap
  • Shampoo regularly with a gentle daily shampoo to prevent buildup
  • Rinse skin following sweaty exercise to wash away triggering yeast
  • Spot treat flakes with salicylic acid scalp scrub as needed

Moisturizing While Avoiding Irritants

  • Apply oil-free, non-comedogenic lotions soon after bathing while skin is damp
  • Take care to rinse hair conditioners off back and chest after showering
  • Avoidethanol-based hair gels or skin products with alcohol, fragrance

Treating Affected Areas Gently

  • Use a soft cloth when washing to avoid scratching fragile areas
  • Avoid picking or scraping plaques as it can worsen and spread rashes
  • Opt for sensitive skin laundry detergents if rashes appear bodywide

Other Preventative Precautions

  • Reduce emotional stress through self-care routines when possible
  • Choose breathable natural fabrics, especially for activewear
  • Repair cracks in dry hands and feet that might harbor yeast

While not a complete cure, these proactive skin protection steps help avoid aggravating seborrheic dermatitis occurrences.

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Frequently Asked Questions About Seborrheic Dermatitis

Can seborrheic dermatitis ever be permanently removed?

Presently, there is no known “cure” for seborrheic dermatitis, as it recurs in response to yeast normally living on human skin. With attentive skin care and flare treatment, outbreaks often become less frequent and intense for many patients over time. But the underlying sensitivity usually remains lifelong.

How do you treat seborrheic dermatitis on the face?

Facial seborrheic dermatitis responds best to gentle cleansing paired with over-the-counter antifungal creams, such as ketoconazole. Limiting use of irritating cosmetics and keeping the face protected with oil-free moisture barriers also helps prevent flare-ups around the nose, eyes and mouth.

What causes dandruff and seborrheic dermatitis of the scalp?

Scalp seborrheic dermatitis is not caused by having dirty hair or poor hygiene, but rather oily secretions interacting with normal flora. Using a daily clarifying shampoo can help curb outbreaks without stripping the hair and scalp excessively. Harsh styling products and hair dyes should be avoided as well.

Is seborrheic dermatitis contagious?

Seborrheic dermatitis itself does not spread from person to person. However, individuals appear genetically predisposed, so family members may share tendencies. The malassezia yeasts that aggravate flare-ups are transferrable through contact, but not contagious in the sense an acute virus or bacteria causes illness.

Can seborrheic dermatitis go away permanently over time?

In infants, seborrheic dermatitis lasting beyond 6 months should be evaluated for alternative causes. Otherwise seborrheic dermatitis beginning around puberty or in adulthood tends to persist to some degree indefinitely. While extended remissions do happen randomly, avoiding known triggers is still advisable to prevent recurrent rashes.

Best Practices Summary for Seborrheic Dermatitis Relief

In review, key principles for managing seborrheic dermatitis include:

  • Using antifungal cleansers and medication treatments at first signs of flare-ups
  • Modifying skincare routines to avoid drying or irritating sensitive areas
  • Identifying and reducing individual trigger exposures when possible
  • Combining conventional therapies with natural approaches as needed
  • Seeing a dermatologist for accurate diagnosis and treatment plan

While seborrheic dermatitis cannot be eliminated fully, with concerted skincare it can be contained for long stretches without symptoms. Being attentive to early warning signs allows quick intervention to minimize flares when they do periodic occur.


Mayo Clinic Staff. Seborrheic dermatitis – Diagnosis and treatment. Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/seborrheic-dermatitis/diagnosis-treatment/drc-20352714. Published September 27, 2022. Accessed December 22, 2022.

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