Despite how common the condition is, seborrheic dermatitis remains something of a mystery for physicians. This uncomfortable skin condition is marked by patches of yellow and white flakes as well as areas of extreme oiliness. Often, the skin that borders seborrheic dermatitis rashes becomes red and mildly inflamed, and itchiness often accompanies the condition.
The most common place to develop seborrheic dermatitis is on the scalp, where it causes the embarrassing problem of dandruff. The rash associated with seborrheic dermatitis can develop on other areas of the body as well, particularly in the eyebrows or on the eyelids and the creases around the nose and lips. On the face, seborrheic dermatitis is usually quite noticeable and affects the self-esteem of sufferers.
Doctors do not fully understand what causes seborrheic dermatitis rashes to develop. Typically, the condition is caused by the presence of malassezia, a type of yeast. While most people have some amount of the yeast on their skin, if you have seborrheic dermatitis, you likely have an overgrowth of the fungus on your face. Although the condition is not contagious, it is not completely understood why this overgrowth occurs on some people and not on others.
Some people notice that their outbreaks of seborrheic dermatitis correspond primarily to the changes in seasons with the most severe rashes developing during the winter months. Stress, fatigue and a lack of sleep also seem to make seborrheic dermatitis flare-ups more common among sufferers. Individuals who are obese and who have certain neurological and autoimmune conditions, like Parkinson's disease, HIV and AIDS, are also more likely to develop seborrheic dermatitis. The condition runs in some families as well, so if you have a parent or sibling who suffers from the rash, you are at a greater risk for developing it yourself.
While some studies have found that a failure to properly cleanse the skin contributes to seborrheic dermatitis, there is no way to prevent developing the condition or to stop its return after its initial appearance. There are, however, treatments available to help you manage your symptoms and eliminate the rash more quickly, so that you can get back to looking and feeling your best.
Home Remedies and Supplements
To care for seborrheic dermatitis at home, keep your skin well cleansed by using a mild product designed for sensitivity. Cleansing is vital to removing the excess oil from your complexion that causes irritation and may promote the growth of malassezia.
Natural medical practitioners recommend a variety of home remedies for seborrheic dermatitis, which may or may not be effective for treating the condition, depending on what is contributing to it. One method involves mixing one teaspoon of lemon juice with one teaspoon of garlic and applying it to the skin for 5 to 10 minutes before rinsing. Some people also benefit from applying olive oil to the skin, allowing it to dry and leaving it in place for several hours before cleansing their face as usual.
Oral fish oil supplements, which are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, provide some people with relief from seborrheic dermatitis. The most common side effects of such supplements are mild burping, a fishy taste in the mouth and mild indigestion; however, you should consult your physician before starting on a fish oil supplement, particularly if you have another chronic medical condition.
Over the Counter Treatments
For mild cases of seborrheic dermatitis, over-the-counter treatments are often highly effective at bringing relief to itchiness and helping to eliminate the rash. Although most products are not labeled for the treatment of seborrheic dermatitis on the face, if you look for specific active ingredients, you'll be able to spot those that could help you with the condition.
Originally discovered in the bark of the willow tree, salicylic acid is a chemical exfoliator that dissolves the bonds between skin cells to help remove old tissue. For seborrheic dermatitis sufferers, exfoliation is critical to removing the unsightly flakes caused by the condition.
A by-product of burning coal to produce coke or gas, coal tar is a dark, thick liquid that has been used as a medicinal treatment for centuries. Coal tar has fungicidal properties, allowing it to kill the malassezia that contributes to seborrheic dermatitis on the face.
The chemical element zinc assists with the treatment of seborrheic dermatitis on the face by two methods. When present on the skin, zinc prevents new flakes from occurring to help even out your skin texture. In addition, zinc decreases the amount of sebum produced by your face, which has a detrimental effect on malassezia and lessens the severity of the rash.
Tea Tree Oil
Among natural plant extracts, tea tree oil is perhaps the most clinically proven for eliminating fungus and is often recommended by traditional physicians to treat fungal infections in individuals who can't use traditional antifungal prescription medications. Tea tree oil is sourced from the leaves of a plant that grows in Australia and is found in a variety of skin care products.
In some cases, you may need to visit your doctor to receive a prescription medication to treat seborrheic dermatitis. A variety of types of prescription drugs are used to treat the condition, including:
Antifungal drugs use ingredients to destroy the malassezia. Once the yeast is eliminated, the rash generally heals on its own. Usually, topical antifungal medications are preferred for treating the rash, such as ciclopirox and ketoconazole. For very severe cases, your doctor may select oral terbinafine tablets in place of topical remedies. Both oral and topical antifungal drugs have the potential to cause side effects and allergic reactions.
Corticosteroid medications suppress your immune system to decrease the inflammation associated with seborrheic dermatitis. Topical hydrocortisone, desonide and betamethasone creams are the most commonly prescribed drugs in the class for the treatment of the rash. Because corticosteroid creams can cause thinning of the skin over time, your doctor will likely prescribe these creams for only a few weeks, regardless of their effectiveness.
Calcineurin inhibitors work like corticosteroid medications by inhibiting the actions of your immune system to limit inflammation. Typically, these drugs are reserved only for the most severe cases of seborrheic dermatitis as they pose a risk for the development of skin cancers and lymphoma in some patients. The most commonly used calcineurin inhibitors for the condition are tacrolimus and pimecrolimus.