Seborrheic dermatitis is a condition that wreaks havoc on the sebaceous glands deep beneath the surface of skin. From cradle cap in infants to dandruff in adults, this condition can affects all ages and often demands special treatments. Read on to learn more.
Seborrheic dermatitis is a skin disorder that affects skin surfaces with oil-producing sebaceous glands. Depending on where it occurs, the condition is also referred to as dandruff, cradle cap or seborrheic eczema. There are various ways to treat and prevent this uncomfortable skin condition. But before you tackle the treatment of seborrheic dermatitis, it’s important to understand the basics. Here’s what you need to know.
The symptoms of seborrheic dermatitis
Seborrheic dermatitis is most common on the scalp but can also occur around the eyebrows, behind the ears, on the forehead or nose, in the armpits, on the chest and around the groin. Typically, this skin condition is characterized by white or yellowish plaques or crustiness on the surface of skin. Occasionally, scales may also adhere to the hair shaft, causing hair to fall out. Skin may become red, greasy, itchy, flaky or sore. This condition is most likely to affect infants and adults (mostly men) between the ages of 30 and 60.
What causes this condition?
Although the cause of seborrheic dermatitis is unknown, scientists believe that a combination of overactive oil glands, yeast and hormones are to blame.
Malassezia , a yeast that survives on oil within the sebaceous glands, is normally present in the skin in small amounts. However, higher numbers of this yeast are linked with seborrheic dermatitis. And since this disorder is most common during infancy and disappears after puberty, some experts believe that hormones may influence its occurrence.
In addition to running in the family, the New York Times Health Guide points out that the following factors may increase the risk of developing seborrheic dermatitis:
- infrequent cleansing of skin and hair
In addition, Family Doctor, an online health resource from the American Academy of Family Physicians, points out that seborrheic dermatitis has been connected with certain neurologic disorders, including epilepsy and Parkinson's disease.
Treatment in infants
Known as cradle cap when it affects infants, seborrheic dermatitis is a common condition in newborns and babies before the age of three. Typically, cradle cap clears up by itself within a few months. In the meantime, to improve the appearance of skin, gently brush the area with a soft brush, then wash with a mild baby shampoo. For stubborn scales, apply a drop of mineral or olive oil onto the surface of skin and let it sit for a few minutes before shampooing as normal. If the condition worsens or persists, contact a pediatrician, as more potent medication might be required.
- Product pick: The right baby shampoo can prevent and treat cradle cap in newborns. Mustela Foam Shampoo For Newborns is a mild, sting-free foaming cleanser that includes alpha hydroxy acids to gently exfoliate away flakes and eliminate yeast.
Treatment for adults
Treatment for adults with seborrheic dermatitis depends on the location of the condition:
- Scalp. Mayo Clinic recommends using a medicated, over-the-counter dandruff shampoo that contains one of the following ingredients: salicylic acid, tar, selenium sulfide, ciclopirox, ketoconazole or pyrithione zinc.
For effective treatment, it’s important to follow the product’s instructions, which are different from normal shampoos. Always leave the shampoo on for at least three to five minutes so that the ingredients have time to penetrate the scalp. If the condition clears up and then worsens, switch to a different dandruff shampoo. If that doesn’t work, or if the condition doesn’t improve after a few weeks, schedule a visit with your doctor, who can prescribe a stronger treatment.
- Product pick: DS Laboratories Dandrene is an antifungal shampoo that’s armed with amino acids to strengthen each strand from root to tip. Use daily to control excess oil and reduce the yeast that triggers dandruff.
- Body. On the body, including the face, seborrheic dermatitis should be treated using an over-the-counter antifungal cream. Use as directed to treat the symptoms; however, if the condition doesn’t improve, you may need a prescription-strength medication such as topical corticosteroids and/or antifungal treatments.
It’s important to thoroughly discuss treatments with your doctor, as some prescriptions for seborrheic dermatitis are also immunomodulators and can impact your body’s ability to fight off other germs.
If your condition includes itchiness, use an anti-itch cream.
- Product pick: Treat the itch that often accompanies seborrheic dermatitis with Stiefel Sarna Sensitive Anti-Itch Lotion. Formulated with pramoxine hydrochloride, this topical cream effectively relieves itching and won’t irritate sensitive skin.
Seborrheic dermatitis is similar to other skin disorders like atopic dermatitis, psoriasis and ringworm of the scalp. If you’re unsure which condition you have, contact a doctor, as treatments vary.
Easy prevention tips
To prevent the occurrence of seborrheic dermatitis and existing conditions from worsening, follow these tips:
- Don’t scratch. Cover the infected area with a bandage or use an anti-itch cream with hydrocortisone to prevent scratching, which irritates the infected area.
- Shave. Body hair, including beards and mustaches, can make the symptoms of seborrheic dermatitis worse. Removing hair on affected areas of skin can improve this condition.
- Wear cotton. Soft cotton clothing is most gentle on infected areas of skin.
- Avoid harsh ingredients. Detergents and cleansers might irritate your infection, so use formulas with gentle ingredients that are intended for sensitive skin.
- Cleanse regularly. Regular shampooing and cleansing of the skin is essential to prevent and control this condition. Use a daily dandruff shampoo during flare-ups and after symptoms subside to prevent future outbreaks.
Unfortunately, adults with seborrheic dermatitis are unlikely to outgrow this condition and may feel insecure about their appearance. Thankfully, with simple prevention techniques and treatment, the symptoms of seborrheic dermatitis can be managed and its appearance minimized. For questions about the causes, symptoms or treatment of this condition, contact your family doctor.
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