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So you think you have Seborrheic Dermatitis and you want to do something about it?
Before I start, I have some good news and some bad news.
Let’s get the bad news out the way first….
There is no known permanent cure for Seborrheic Dermatitis.
But don’t get downhearted…
The good news is that Seborrheic Dermatitis can be a relatively straightforward condition to control. I’ve suffered from seb derm for the best part of 20 years and very rarely suffer a prolonged breakout.
In order to control Seborrheic Dermatitis you have to:
- Have Seborrheic Dermatitis (this may seem like a glib comment but it’s incredible how many people fall at this first hurdle).
- Understand what Seborrheic Dermatitis is and how to control it.
- Know what active ingredients control Seborrheic Dermatitis.
- Find the best treatment that suits you.
It really is that straightforward.
We’ll cover the basics of this approach in this article.
What’s in this article:
- What is Seborrheic Dermatitis
- What are the symptoms of Seborrheic Dermatitis
- What Triggers Seb Derm
- How to Control Seb Derm
- The Best Seb Derm Treatments
What is Seborrheic Dermatitis?
Seborrheic Dermatitis is a type of eczema. It’s also technically the only form of dandruff. Psoriasis, dry scalp or product build up can cause flaking of the scalp, but they aren’t technically dandruff at all. However, it can be easy to confuse the various conditions.
Seb Derm is also very common. You aren’t alone. Seborrheic Dermatitis is said to affect about 5% of the population. All races, colors, and creeds included.
You’ll often see Seborrheic Dermatitis referred to as dandruff, seb derm, seborrhoeic eczema, seborrhea, sebopsoriasis, and pityriasis. For many people, this condition comes and goes. Changes in the weather or stress can cause flare-ups which can die down at other times of the year.
The condition is concentrated around your oil (sebaceous) glands. These glands are very prominent where you have hair follicles. Hence the tendency to have seb derm on the scalp. That said, the condition can also show up on the face, eyebrows, the crease of your nose, the adjoining cheeks, around the ears, the chest and in any areas where your skin rubs together e.g. the groin, under the arms or breasts.
It isn’t dangerous or contagious and you probably had it when you were a baby; cradle cap is another more cuddly name for Seborrheic Dermatitis.
Nobody really knows what causes Seborrhoeic Dermatitis, but there is compelling medical evidence linking it an inflammatory allergic reaction to a type of yeast found on all our skins. This allergic reaction causes your body to overproduce sebum. As a defensive measure of some sort. The body sees the yeast as a threat and responds by overproducing sebum. Sebum is the natural oil on your skin produced by the sebaceous glands. And it’s actually dried sebum that flakes – and is what we now call dandruff.
There are many factors that can contribute to flare-ups. Stress and diet play a part. It may also be a genetic disorder. Nobody really knows. Don’t be downhearted though, once you know you have Seb Derm it’s relatively straightforward to control with the right treatment.
The Symptoms of Seborrhoeic Dermatitis
Dandruff from Seborrheic Dermatitis is pretty distinct from other forms of dandruff as the flakes will be yellow in color. They will be crusty, scaly, oily and the grains are relatively large as opposed to the grainy dandruff you get from a dry scalp.
As mentioned, Seb Derm can manifest itself wherever the sebaceous glands are prominent, e.g. your scalp, forehead, chest, nose, eyelashes or upper back
In addition to the crusty yellow dandruff, your skin will typically have red inflamed patches during a flare up which can get incredibly itchy.
It is not contagious. I was once pretty worried about passing it on to people – particularly when I was around children.
Don’t worry! Nobody can catch this from you.
For some people, the condition can cause depression. I remember it was a nightmare until I fully understood what I had and took control of my condition.
If you suspect you have seb derm but aren’t sure I highly recommend visiting a dermatologist. They’ll typically scrape some of the crust and send it away for a very routine examination. The results will come back pretty quickly and then you’ll know 100% what your condition is.
If you are diagnosed with seb derm – don’t fret – take the news as a positive. It’s such a harmless condition and it is often so straightforward to control.
What Triggers Seb Derm
There are a number of situations that can cause a flare up or exasperate the condition. These can be very personal to you, as can the resulting treatment. Stress triggers my condition off terribly. I also notice more flare-ups if I’ve been eating a lot of bread or sugar. This sucks as I love bread and sugar, but on the whole, I’ve cut the quantities down. Be aware of your triggers. For some, it is the weather. For others the swimming pool. Not washing enough. Not washing too much. Even a change in hair length can trigger some people!
Keep a mental note of what you are eating or doing when a flare-up occurs. Simple changes in your diet and behaviors can go a long way to controlling seb derm.
How To Control Seb Derm
So we know that Seb Derm is linked to a yeast called the Malassezia yeast. The medical evidence is overwhelming now – the yeast and the condition are inextricably linked. This yeast is actually present on most people but we seb derm sufferers react to it. Our body sees the yeast as a threat and reacts to that threat by overproducing sebum.
In order to control Seb Derm, we have two options. We can:
- Stop our body from seeing the yeast as a threat
- Create a hostile environment for the yeast
If I knew how to stop my body from seeing the yeast as a threat I’d be a very rich man.
However, I have had more success in creating a hostile environment for the yeast. And to do that you have to
- Stop feeding the yeast
- Prevent the yeast from forming a biofilm
- Attack the yeast
Stop feeding the yeast
Yeast is a living organism. And like every living organism – it needs to eat to survive. The Malassezia yeast is no different.
Now, most of us will have used or use a moisturizer regularly. Not many people are aware that as many as 90%+ of moisturizers contain oils that feed seb derm.
Similarly, I can’t help but cringe when I hear of people with seb derm applying olive oil to their skin. Their intentions are good – it’s a natural healthy oil. However, Olive Oil is actually used to feed fungus in lab conditions.
As it turns out, up to 85% of Olive Oil is a fatty acid called Oleic Acid. Oleic Acid is literally food for the Malassezia yeast,
In fact, Malassezia consumes any fatty acid that has a carbon chain length of 11 through 24.
If you look through the following list of fatty acids, only Octanoic Acid and Capric Acid will not feed the Malassezia yeast as they have carbon chain lengths of 8 and 10 respectively.
There are a number of invaluable references that comprehensively list fatty acids with their carbon chain lengths.
You need to make sure your moisturizers or conditioners don’t contain these fatty acids.
Otherwise, you are feeding your seb derm.
Prevent the yeast from forming a biofilm
Have you ever tried a dandruff shampoo, found it worked then after a period of time, noticed that the shampoo gets less and less effective. The reason for this is the yeast has formed a biofilm.
A biofilm is essentially a protective layer that the yeast forms around itself to protect itself from the active ingredient found in your shampoo. Your shampoo appears to be less and less effective as the yeast is forming a strong biofilm around itself until the active ingredient is virtually useless.
There are a number of ways to penetrate and destroy this biofilm. Selenium Sulfide, for example, is an excellent active ingredient that can destroy this biofilm.
Kill the yeast using an active ingredient
Seborrheic Dermatitis is scientifically proven to be controlled using anti-fungal active ingredients. These ingredients will help control the Malassezia yeast that your body is reacting to.
There are a number of anti-fungal agents commonly found in treatments these days including:
And less frequently:
Exfoliation is important. The flakes can form a protective layer, making it harder for the active ingredient to do it’s thing.
Salicylic Acid is an active ingredient that will help exfoliate your skin by softening and clearing the crust. It’ll help get rid of an existing breakout. It will also help an anti-fungal active ingredient penetrate your skin better. It often found in some excellent combination shampoos (ie a shampoo containing a combination of active ingredients). However, overuse can dry your scalp if used too frequently.
There are other ways to exfoliate though.
One way to help loosen and get rid of the crusty build up is to use a scalp brush. As well as helping distribute your sebum, a scalp brush will invigorate your scalp by removing flakes, build up and dirt.
If you suffer from seb derm on the face, chest or anywhere but the head a superb way to achieve similar results is to use a konjac sponge. These amazing sponges have been used in Japan for over a century to gently exfoliate and clean their skin. These things are also excellent if you suffer from acne or you’re prone to oily skin.
Get plenty of sunshine
There are numerous research papers on the benefits of sunshine on your skin. However, if like me, you live in a poor climate, there is hope for you yet. UV light from both natural and artificial sources helps to control the yeast that causes seborrheic dermatitis. Many UV Combs and lamps are appearing on the market. UVB treatment, in particular, can help both dermatitis and psoriasis. Another advantage of using natural sources is the other benefits you get from sunlight; vitamin D in particular.
If you live in an area with little sunlight then top up on the Vitamin D supplements.
Choose the least impact treatment you can find
By least impact, I mean, once you know the most effective active ingredient for your needs, choose the gentlest formulated product containing that ingredient. However, gentle means different things to different people.
Manufacturers will often add ingredients known to cause contact dermatitis into shampoos and other treatments. These ingredients can cause allergic or irritable reactions in some of us which can ultimately trigger an outbreak of seb derm. You read that right. Anti-dandruff treatments can cause dandruff. However, these reactions are very personal. You may react to something that few others do. Likewise, a common allergen may have no effect on you whatsoever.
Make a note of what’s in your treatment and avoid the ingredients that cause reactions in you.
If you haven’t got time to keep up to speed on the active ingredients and contact allergens then the easiest way to find your best dandruff shampoo is to use our search tool. We’ll do the hard work for you in helping you find your most effective treatment.
The Best Seb Derm Treatments
Seb derm can affect us in many areas. We have a dedicated article on controlling facial or chest seb derm.
But most commonly of all, you can treat seb derm on the scalp using a dandruff shampoo.
The best shampoos for treating Seborrheic Dermatitis
These are among our current crop of staff picks for treating seb derm. But be sure to check in again as the list keeps changing.
Pharmaceutical Specialties formed in 1974 to “start a company to make better products than were commercially available for people with sensitive skin”. And boy, have they achieved it with this Free and Clear shampoo.
What is perhaps surprising on a website dedicated to dandruff treatments is that this isn’t a dandruff shampoo at all.
It’s rather a "a non-medicated, mild shampoo for sensitive skin and scalp.”
That said, we can’t use a medicated shampoo all the time, and this is my go to shampoo for those “between” washes.Read the entire review
BIOM8 Skin Conditioning Oil is now part of my daily skin care routine. It’s as simple as that. I have lost count of the number of products I’ve reviewed over the years and I can count on one hand the number of products that have impacted me on this level.
If you suffer from dry skin, facial seb derm or rosacea I simply can’t recommend this product highly enough.
It even makes a good beard oil!Read the entire review
Calling all sensitive scalp sufferers, if you haven’t yet found an anti-dandruff shampoo your scalp can tolerate, you haven’t yet found Sebclair shampoo. A piroctone olamine, Malassezia yeast quelling formula with extremely mild yet highly effective cleansers, accompanying scalp hydrators, flake fighters and natural anti-inflammatories. No fragrance, no essentials oils, no allergens. Sebclair shampoo really does stand out in our anti-dandruff crowd.Read the entire review
If your babe’s crusty cradle cap’s only getting worse, it’s time to try a leave on treatment – one which doesn’t leave your baby’s scalp looking like a grease ball. Enter Bioderma’s ABDderm Babysquam keratoregulating cream a 14 ingredient formula made from sensitive, hypoallergenic, moisturising, soothing and barrier building ingredients.
Useable 7 days a week with no fragrance or harsh preservatives Bioderma’s ABDderm Babysquam keratoregulating cream respects, repairs and conditions away crusty cradle cap.Read the entire review
Designed to treat Seborrheic Dermatitis
One of the best and mildest shampoos out there for seb derm sufferers with sensitive skin.
Containing both Piroctone Olamine and Salicylic Acid as well as being SLS free, paraben free, artificial color free this shampoo has an absolutely outstanding choice of active and inactive ingredients.
There are still two or three chemicals in there that some may find irritating. Otherwise this would have been a five out of five performer.Read the entire review
Designed to treat Seborrheic Dermatitis
Sebamed is one of the gentle yet most effective seb derm shampoos available.
The active ingredient is Piroctine Olamine - an excellent anti-fungal agent.
The rest of the shampoo has been formulated with panache.Read the entire review
DHS Coal Tar Shampoo is an expertly formulated shampoo containing 0.5% coal tar and is the gentlest coal tar shampoo we’ve yet reviewed
We can't recommend this product or this company highly enough.Read the entire review
Quite simply the best pure Salicylic Acid shampoo we’ve yet reviewed. The shampoo contains 3% Salicylic Acid combined with a fragrance free, sulfate free and virtually every other nasty ingredient free formulation. It does this and still feels luxurious when washing.
Neutrogena should be exceptionally proud of this top top class shampoo.Read the entire review
Hydrating shampoo formulas don’t come around often making Art Naturals Scalp 18 Coal Tar Shampoo a gem. Best for dry, itchy scalp symptoms. Can be used for mild dandruff. Plant-based, sustainable and cruelty-free – an all-round goodie.Read the entire review
Maple Holistics Tea Tree Shampoo is an outstanding Tea Tree shampoo for treating Dry Scalp or Seb Derm. It doesn’t contain any artificial coloring or fragrance, sulfates, parabens, or carcinogens. It contains only three potential contact allergens, with two of the three being tea tree and rosemary essential oils.
The combination of cleansing agents used are gentle, effective and innovative while the shampoo smells ace and washes even better.
If you're looking for a tea tree shampoo, I can't recommend this highly enough.Read the entire review
DHS Sal Shampoo is a 3% salicylic acid shampoo designed to treat Psoriasis and Seborrheic Dermatitis.
It’s an outstanding shampoo that washes well, contains relatively few ingredients, is gentle and won’t break the bank.
If you’re not sensitive to sulfates and are looking for a good salicylic acid shampoo, this is an excellent performer.
Yet again, DHS have produced a shampoo that we can't recommend highly enough.Read the entire review
Puracy Citrus Mint Natural Shampoo offers a great natural alternative to the many sulfate laden shampoos on the market today. Whether you are looking for an everyday use shampoo, or one that you can rotate your medicated dandruff shampoo with, we’d recommend trying the Natural Shampoo.
Because there are essential oils in the formula, we recommend caution to anyone who is sensitive to fragrances, or sensitive or allergic to any of the ingredients.
Otherwise, you’re looking at an expertly formulated shampoo that, for once, lives up to the manufacturer’s promises.Read the entire review
Sebclair Non-Steroidal Cream is an anti-fungal, piroctone olamine based treatment partnered with a trophy cabinet of natural anti-inflammatory actives. If you have a mild to moderate case of seb derm, hate steroids and love naturals Sebclair is for you. Best bit – there’s only two known allergens or irritants.Read the entire review
Designed to treat Seborrheic Dermatitis
Do you have an extremely sensitive scalp in need of anti-dandruff help? Do you suffer from mild to moderate seb derm? Meet your new best friend. Free & Clear’s Medicated Anti-Dandruff Shampoo contains zero allergens, zero irritants, zero sensitizers formula based on 2% zinc pyrithione. An active ingredient able to improve the health of dandruff affected skin while also helping pacify dandruff causing overgrowths of the Malassezia yeast.
I simply can't recommend this shampoo highly enough.Read the entire review
Did you know using natural oils could be making your baby’s cradle cap last for longer? Instead, we recommend placing your trust in clinically trialed baby-friendly formulas able to effectively tackle the cause of your baby’s cradle cap – excess scalp oil. Case and point, ultra-mild Dentinox Cradle Cap Treatment Shampoo, an 8 ingredient formula proven safe and effective for everyday use.Read the entire review
Tired of testing out cradle cap shampoos which just don’t budge your babe’s crusty dry scalp? Then you need a cradle cap shampoo with active ingredients proven to work. Enter Babe Laboratorios Paediatric Cradle Cap Shampoo a 4 active ingredient formula including 0.5% scalp softening salicylic acid plus a boosting active able to make your 0.5% dose work harder than its quantity would usually dictate. For use 2 to 3 times a week, the gentle shampoo formula cleanses carefully, treats sensitively and works simply.Read the entire review
Are you looking for a natural solution to your baby’s crusty cradle cap? Want a formula that works with your skin to help restore a healthy scalp? Then look no further than Bella B’s Bee Gone Cradle Cap Baby Shampoo with oatmeal, tea tree oil, shea butter and more for helping restore what makes your baby's scalp healthy. Free of parabens, animal by-products, harsh cleansers and preservatives, the hypoallergenic formula makes Bella B’s bee gone cradle cap baby shampoo a great solution for the everyday care of your baby's scalp.Read the entire review
Anti-cradle cap shampoos designed to be used from the very first day of your babe’s life are hard to come by. And in the promise of finding one, you want to be 100% sure of its safety. Mustela foam shampoo for newborns is a diamond in the rough, featuring well proven anti-cradle cap/anti-dandruff actives with above and beyond safety testing in a daily use formula.
It is worth bearing in mind that it isn't fragrance-free, and salicylic acid can cause dryness after prolonged usage. But as a treatment to combat established doses of cradle cap - you'll struggle to find a more effective treatment on the market.Read the entire review
Dandruff shampoos can wreak havoc on dry, itchy scalps. Sea Magik Mineral Shampoo is different. A calming, hydrating formula with a combination of gentler, anti-dandruff actives. With independent research to back up claims that it’s potent, powerful yet still soothing. A great overall formula that's suitable for all but the most hypersensitive or allergy-prone skin types.Read the entire review
Designed to treat Seborrheic Dermatitis
Nizoral is probably the most effective shampoo on the market to control dandruff caused by seb derm. It's technically a medicine and is one of few anti-dandruff shampoos approved to make healthcare claims i.e. to treat and prevent dandruff. With a 2% dose of anti-fungal ketoconazole mixed into an 11 ingredient fragrance-free formula, if you suffer from moderate to severe seb derm – it’s a must try. Studies show significant and dramatic improvements in 30 days.Read the entire review
Capasal have taken the unique step of combining 1% Coal Tar with 0.5% Salicylic Acid and added coconut oil.
It's perhaps the most original and interesting shampoo formulation we've yet seen
That aside Capasal is an excellent shampoo for those who suffer mild to moderate scalp psoriasis.Read the entire review
Denorex isn’t the gentlest shampoo, but with 3% Salicylic Acid it’s as strong as you’ll find OTC.
If you don’t use it too frequently and you suffer from mild to moderate psoriasis or seb derm, Denorex is very effective treatment.Read the entire review
E45 is a brand synonymous with dry skin care.
If you frequently get dry scalps after washing then this shampoo could be an excellent choice.Read the entire review
La Roche Posay is a combination shampoo, combining both Piroctone Olamine and Salicylic Acid. The Salicylic Acid will help exfoliate existing dandruff build up while the Piroctone Olamine is designed to prevent any new outbreaks. It’s a match made in heaven.
I can’t let a mention of a review pass without commenting on how luxurious this shampoo feels and smells when washing – better than any medicated shampoo I have ever tried. And I’ve tried lots!
There are a couple of harsh ingredients but compared to the majority of the shampoos on the market, this is a first class Piroctone Olamine shampoo.Read the entire review
Pura's D'or Argan Oil shampoo features an interesting formula that combines traditional therapy and herbalism.
It wears a premium price tag, but it is truly a premium product.
The active ingredient in Pura's product is the familiar zinc pyrithione. It also includes aloe vera and grapefruit seed extract, which have antifungal and antioxidant properties, and a number of fragrant essential oils.
Normally, shampoos containing argan oil send up a red flag for people with seborrheic dermatitis. The oleic acid content can exacerbate the condition. However, the amount present determines the sensitivity level, and a little should have no impact.
After using the shampoo, we found that it delivered a great performance without producing adverse reactions.
If you're sensitive to fragrance, cocamidopropyl betaine or phenooxyethanol, you may want to steer clear of this shampoo, but for many dandruff sufferers, it can achieve complete control of symptoms while providing a pleasant and surprisingly sudsy washing experience along with reliable treatment results.Read the entire review
That’s our picks for best treatments for Seborrheic Dermatitis. There are plenty of other choices out there though so feel free to browse through all of our Seborrheic Dermatitis treatment reviews.