Few things are more cosmetically disturbing than hair loss, especially for women. There are a variety of reasons why people lose their hair. One possible cause is a condition called seborrheic dermatitis. This condition can affect both the scalp and the body, and when the scalp is affected, it can lead to hair loss.
What Causes It?
The cause of seborrheic dermatitis isn’t completely understood. One theory is that a tiny yeast called Malassezia triggers the signs and symptoms of this skin and scalp condition. The symptoms typically include irritation and itching and are accompanied by a patchy, scaly rash. Most people have this yeast on the surface of their skin, but some people are more sensitive to its effects. People with seborrheic dermatitis produce more of a sticky substance called sebum, which provides nourishment for the hungry yeast Malassezia.
Genetics also play a role in who gets this type of dermatitis since it often runs in families. It’s also more common in people who have medical conditions that affect the immune system and in people with neurological diseases such as Parkinson’s disease.
Not everyone who has seborrheic dermatitis experiences hair loss even if their scalp is affected. Some people only have the characteristic itchy scalp, scaly rash and flaking, while others develop inflammation around the hair follicles that leads to hair loss. It’s important to treat the symptoms early since the hair follicles can become damaged and lead to permanent loss of hair.
Certain factors can aggravate the symptoms including stress, fatigue, some medications, temperature changes, certain foods and hormonal changes, so it’s important to limit these triggers as much as possible. It’s also important to maintain a clean scalp. The yeast Malassezia thrives when sebum builds up on the scalp.
Shampoo formulated with botanical extracts can gently cleanse and ease the itching and flaking of seborrheic dermatitis. Other shampoos contain zinc pyrithone, an ingredient commonly used to treat this problem.
Some dermatologists also recommend applying topical steroid solutions to areas of the scalp with itching, flaking and patchy loss of hair. Steroids help to reduce the itching, but they have the additional benefit of reducing the inflammation that contributes to hair loss.
Another treatment that helps with this condition are topical anti-fungal medications. They work by reducing the number of the Mallasezia yeast on the scalp that’s contributing to the problem, while treating the itching and flaking. Once these symptoms are relieved and the inflammation is reduced, the hair grows back over time in most people. In unresponsive cases, some doctors recommend oral anti-fungal medications.
In severe cases, doctors sometimes prescribe medications that reduce inflammation by suppressing the immune response. These medications can have serious side effects, so they should only be used as a last resort.
Some research suggests that omega-3 fatty acids found in fatty fish and in fish oil supplements help to control the symptoms of seborrheic dermatitis. Consider eating more fatty fish like wild salmon to your diet or talk to your doctor about taking a fish oil supplement.
The Bottom Line?
Seborrheic dermatitis that involves the scalp typically causes a rash, scaling and itching, but some people experience hair loss. It’s important to start treatment early to avoid permanent damage to the hair follicles. Start by using a shampoo that contains ingredients formulated to treat this problem, and talk to your doctor about other treatment options such as topical steroids and anti-fungal treatments.