Dealing with a flaking scalp or face can feel embarrassing. It can also be a pesky problem to try to resolve.
Luckily, there’s a name for what you’re dealing with… and also several treatment options. That’s right, with proper scalp and skin care, you can likely get your flaking skin (called seborrheic dermatitis) under control.
You deserve to feel glad in your skin again! So, let’s dive into the ins and outs of seborrheic dermatitis and what causes these frustrating flare-ups.
What Is Seborrheic Dermatitis?
Seborrheic dermatitis, also known as dandruff, seborrheic eczema, or seborrheic psoriasis, is a skin condition that causes scaly, crusty, red patches of skin.
The condition typically affects oily parts of the body, including the face, nose, eyebrows, ears, eyelids, armpits, and especially the scalp.
In infants, seborrheic dermatitis is known as cradle cap.
Seborrheic Dermatitis Symptoms
The symptoms of seborrheic dermatitis tend to worsen in winter weather and during periods of intense stress.
These signs of seborrheic dermatitis include:
- Itchy, red skin
- Dandruff on the scalp, in facial hair, or on the eyebrows
- Scaly patches (yellow or white), typically on an oily area of the body
What Causes Seborrheic Dermatitis?
As with many of the types of eczema, the exact cause of seborrheic dermatitis is unknown. However, doctors believe there are two possible causes:
- A yeast called malassezia that’s found in the skin’s sebum
- An irregular immune system response
In fact, these two potential causes are related, because when malassezia overgrows in the skin microbiome, it seems to cause an immune system response.
Triggers and Risk Factors
While they aren’t direct causes, doctors have also found a number of different factors can trigger seborrheic dermatitis and put you more at risk for developing a rash.
Stress, hormonal changes, harsh chemicals, cold or dry weather, and certain medications can trigger this uncomfortable skin reaction.
Other medical conditions like HIV, Parkinson’s disease, epilepsy, alcoholism, depression, eating disorders, recovery from a stroke or heart attack, and skin conditions such as rosacea or acne also increase your risk of developing seborrheic dermatitis.
How to Treat Seborrheic Dermatitis
You have several options for the treatment of seborrheic dermatitis. Some, you can try at home, while others may require a prescription and guidance from your dermatologist.
1. Daily Cleansing
Because seborrheic dermatitis affects oily skin, it’s important to cleanse your skin daily to help manage sebum production. However, avoid using harsh products that strip the skin or scalp of its natural oils.
In theory, this sounds like it would help… except when you strip the skin of all its oil, it goes into shock and thinks it needs to produce even more oil. That just leaves you oilier than when you first started!
So opt for gentle cleansers and shampoos to help avoid this all-too-common issue.
2. Gently Remove Flakes
Okay, getting rid of those pesky flakes of skin won’t cure your seborrheic dermatitis… but it can be part of managing symptoms while you continue proper treatment. That’s why we think it’s worth mentioning!
To gently and effectively remove flakes from your scalp, apply a mineral or olive oil over the affected skin. Allow the oil to sit for an hour, give or take, before brushing your hair to loosen and remove the scales. After, wash your hair as you normally would.
3. Balance the Skin Microbiome
Balancing the skin microbiome may play a key role in treating your seborrheic dermatitis, especially if you’re suffering from the skin condition as a result of malassezia yeasts.
Your skin microbiome consists of over a trillion tiny microbes that are invisible to the naked eye. These microorganisms include bacteria, viruses, fungi, and protozoa.
So when the malassezia yeast (fungus) overgrows and triggers dandruff, your microbiome is thrown off balance. Your good and bad microbes are no longer in an ideal ratio.
Conventional treatments for seborrheic dermatitis such as over-the-counter topical antifungals and even zinc pyrithione in the shampoo known as Head and Shoulders target this unwanted overgrowth.
At Gladskin, we’ve developed an innovative solution to microbiome disruption: Gladskin Eczema Cream.
This microbiome-balancing cream works with your body, instead of against it, to bring balance back to the trillions of microorganisms living on your skin surface.
Using the patented smart protein Micreobalance®, Gladskin Eczema Cream helps reduce itchiness, redness, dryness, and flakiness associated with eczema — all without the use of steroids, preservatives, parabens, sulfates, or fragrances.
4. Try Tea Tree Oil
Tea tree oil may have antiviral, antifungal, and antibacterial capabilities.
Research studies show that shampoo containing tea tree oil improved dandruff by 41%.
That means if you have seborrheic dermatitis of the scalp, shampoo containing tea tree oil could be a natural, at-home option to try.
When thinking about other areas of the body, always be sure to use tea tree oil in a carrier — not on the skin by itself. Add a few drops to your lotion bottle or an oil before applying.
And when trying a new product (like tea tree oil), perform a patch test before applying the product over a wide area of skin to make sure you don’t react, especially if you’re prone to sensitive skin.
5. Apply Aloe Vera
Aloe vera is well-known as a soothing skincare ingredient. And it makes sense, because of its anti-inflammatory properties. According to research, aloe vera extract can effectively treat seborrheic dermatitis.
If you’ve applied aloe vera extract or gel to the skin before, you know it has a cool feeling. This effect may also help to simultaneously soothe any itching caused by the skin condition.
5. Manage Stress
Do you notice an increase in itching during periods of intense stress? Does your scalp tend to flake during the busiest days of the season? Stress can be a trigger for seborrheic dermatitis, so it’s important to do what you can to manage your mental health.
In fact, it’s important for a number of reasons besides your skin! Dealing with stress is highly personal, so do what works best for you to find peace and beat the feelings of overwhelm. You may want to try journaling, exercising, talking to a counselor, or spending time with loved ones.
6. Visit a Dermatologist
If your rash worsens or doesn’t go away with at-home treatment, contact your dermatologist or primary healthcare provider.
By evaluating the condition of your skin, your dermatologist can recommend a personalized treatment plan to help you heal and keep your skin itch-free.
If your dermatologist considers your skin condition severe, they may recommend use of:
- A topical corticosteroid such as fluocinolone, clobetasol, or desonide
- A calcineurin inhibitor, like tacrolimus or pimecrolimus
- An antifungal cream or pill
If you’re considering corticosteroids, remember the possible effects of steroids, including topical steroid withdrawal, and their ability to throw your skin microbiome off balance.
No matter what treatment you choose, the best thing you can do for the health of your skin is know the benefits and the potential side effects of each treatment option.
You’re not doomed to dealing with dandruff forever! Although the flakes seborrheic dermatitis causes can be upsetting and embarrassing, you have several solutions to choose from.
At Gladskin, we recommend gently cleansing your skin without harsh ingredients and restoring balance to your skin microbiome (like with our Gladskin Eczema Cream). We’ve seen this gentle approach help thousands of people suffering from eczema.