About The Author: FutureDerm is pleased to welcome dermatologist Dr. Hanan Taha, M.D. to our staff as a Contributing Writer. For a complete bio please visit our About page.
Seborrheic Dermatitis (SD) is one of the most common causes of dandruff. It affects about 5% of the population. While it does not affect your overall health, its symptoms are more bothersome than words can describe! Here are a few things to know, and a few things to do to help make it better if you’ve already been diagnosed with SD.
The word “seborrheic” comes from the Latin word sebum (meaning fat) and the Greek word rhoia (meaning to flow). Dermatitis is basically skin (derm) inflammation (-itis). So: fat – flow – skin – inflammation. Yup, that pretty much sums it up!
SD is a chronic inflammatory skin disease. It is characterized by large-ish scales (dandruff) and red itchy skin. In more severe cases there is excessive greasiness, yellow crusts and fissuring of the skin with possible secondary bacterial infection.
It affects areas rich in sebaceous glands: scalp, eyebrows, eyelids, nasolabial folds, eyebrows, mustache, beard, ears, behind the ears, neck, sternum, armpits, breast underside, umbilical area, between the shoulder blades, groins, and gluteal crease.
If it affects the scalp, it can be associated with hair loss (reversible if the inflammation is treated).
SD may be mistaken for eczema, psoriasis, rosacea or various skin infections. Sometimes, two skin diseases can occur simultaneously, which makes diagnosis and treatment more complicated (e.g. sebopsoriasis: overlapping SD and psoriasis).
SD is not contagious and not caused by poor hygiene. It does not affect general health, but can cause embarrassment to the person affected when the dandruff is very visible in the hair or on the face.
What Causes it?
SD is associated with an increase in the Malassezia species, a fungus normally present on human skin, but that has been found to be higher in number in people suffering from SD.
Things that aggravate SD
Stress, exhaustion, lowered immunity, cold, dry climates, alcohol based products on the face and hair, and poor nutrition.
SD is found to be associated with:
Parkinson’s, stroke, mycordial ischemia, Diabetes, HIV infection, obesity, epilepsy, alcoholism, Down syndrome.
SD cannot be cured, only treated.
This means it can never completely go away, but it can be very well controlled with medication and life style changes. Its course will vary during a lifetime, peaking between the ages of 20-40, with intervals of flares and relief.
The various classes of medications that your physician might prescribe include: oral and topical antifungals, calcineurin inhibitors (tacrolimus, pimecrolimus), topical corticosteroids, UV light, and anthralin.
What can YOU do to make life with SD more tolerable?
THE one most useful thing you can do to improve SD is to NOT SCRATCH. It is very tempting, and scratching that itch can be quite the relief, especially when stressed out, but trust me, the less you scratch, the more improvement you will see. Not scratching also means less chance of breaking the skin and secondary bacterial infection. using ice, cold water, or menthol creams help alleviates the itching.
Also, SUNSCREEN! To prevent excessive irritation and post inflammatory hyperpigmentation. Use something appropriate for sensitive skin, such as zinc oxide.
Moisturize regularly. One study showed that the licorice root extract, licochalcone, can help improve redness in SD. This can be found in Eucerin Redness Relief Soothing Night Crème.
For the purpose of an improved immunity and overall health, which are associated with improved SD symptoms: take your vitamins, exercise right, eat right, and sleep right!
Many times, you may not have to go to the doctor every time SD flares up. OTC medications can be helpful in milder, less frequent cases, and they include:
Antifungal shampoos (e.g. selsun blue and head and shoulders).
Other useful shampoos contain pyrithione tar or salicylic acid, such as the Neutrogena T/Gel line of shampoos.
Antifungal creams (e.g. ketoconazole).
Anti-itch creams and antihistamines.
Gentle, non scented soaps.
Avoid alcohol based preparations so as not to irritate the scalp and skin further.
Hair becomes weaker and loses its luster with SD. Be extra gentle with it. Read my previous article on hair care for more tips.
Men: shaving offers some relief, as many men experience a worsening of SD under their beards and mustaches.
Tea tree oil: try mixing 2 parts tea tree oil with 8 parts water in a spray bottle and spray your face with it after washing it or before applying your facial moisturizer or antifungal cream. It does a pretty decent job of calming down the itchiness.
Aloe vera: recently mentioned by Leah, read more about its benefits in her post.
Omega 3 supplements: among their many benefits, they also help improve SD symptoms.
Makeup: many SD patients feel that mineral makeup is gentler on their skin and looks better.
If you try any of these home remedies, tell us which one works best for you!
Got your own tip on what improves SD? Please share it with us!
Thanks for reading! Remember, stop by my blog or tell your friends if interested in reading about skin care in Arabic!
WD James et al. Andrew’s Diseases of the Skin: Clinical Dermatology. Tenth Edition. Saunders Elsevier 2006.
T. Burns et al. Rook’s Textbook of Dermatology. Eighth Edition. Wiley-Blackwell 2010.
S. Wananukul et al. Randomized, Double Blind, Split Side Comparison Study of Moisturizer containing Licochalcone vs. 1% Hydrocortisone in the Treatment of Infantile Seborrheic Dermatitis. Journal of the European Academy of Dermatology and Venereology 2012; 26 (7): 894-7.
Dr. Hanan Taha, M.D. got her MD from Kuwait University in 2002, and obtained a masters degree in Dermatology in 2010 from the University of Alexandria. She has experience in various cosmetic procedures, such as hair removal, facial rejuvenation, skin tightening, cellulite treatment, and management of stretch marks. Hanan’s passion for dermatology started on her very first day of rounds, and after being undecided for years on which direction to go, she decided to become a dermatologist. A strong believer in patient education as grounds for a healthy living, she strives to thoroughly explain her patients their skin problems or concerns and the proposed treatment plan. She also runs a blog in Arabic dedicated to spreading the knowledge about dermatology and cosmetic dermatology in a simple, concise manner (elbashra.com). Elbashra (البشرة) is the Arabic word for “the skin.”View all Dr. Hanan Taha, M.D. posts.
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