Seborrheic Dermatitis, also known as seborrhea, is an inflammatory skin disorder that affects around 2% of healthy adults in the world, occurring prevalently in men. It usually affects those parts of the body which are rich in sebaceous glands, such as the scalp and the face, especially behind the ears and in the areas where the skin folds, like arounds the side of the nose. The affected skin looks scaly, flaky and red, and it is usually itchy. Since it is a chronic disease, it is not possible to cure it completely, but it can be treated.
Causes of Seborrheic Dermatitis of Scalp
The specific causes of seborrheic dermatitis are still unknown. There have been many theories, but there are probably multiple concurrent causes that are not the same for all people. Therefore, treatments that work for some people will not necessarily work for others.
#1 Immune System Malfunction: One of the most likely causes of this disorder is an immune system malfunction. usually, our immune system protects us from most pathogens, but when it doesn’t function properly it is possible to get opportunistic infections. These are infections caused by bacteria and fungi that aren’t usually dangerous for healthy people, and cause infections only in the immunocompromised. One of the fungi whose presence on the scalp has been associated with seborrheic dermatitis is Malassezia furfur, formerly known as Pityrosporum ovale. People who have seborrheic dermatitis often have a reduced resistance to this fungus, which is known to produce toxic substances that can irritate and inflammate the skin. Having a weakened immune system is probably a risk factor for seborrheic dermatitis: for example, most people who are infected with HIV also have the disease.
#2 Stress: Stress is another factor that has been linked with seborrheic dermatitis: we still don’t know how it happens, although it is known that stress can lower the body’s defenses and make it more susceptible to disease. Since seborrheic dermatitis is a cronic condition, stress can cause it to relapse and make symptoms worse. Other neurological conditions have been linked to a heightened incidence of seborrheic dermatitis, for example, Parkinson’s disease.
#3 Hormonal imbalance: Hormonal imbalance can also cause seborrheic dermatitis: this is almost always the case with babies who are still breastfed. When it occurs in children, the disease is called cradle crap, and it presents with a thick, greasy crust around the hairline, often accompanied by a diaper rash. In this case, dermatitis doesn’t need to be treated, and it usually resolves in a few days, but it is important not to use aggressive detergents to get rid of the crust, as they would only make the situation worse.
Hormonal imbalance can also be the cause of seborrheic dermatitis in teenagers: when they start puberty, they start producing more sebum, which can cause or worsen the disease; since men produce more sebum than women, so it is most common in men.
There are also other factors that are involved in the disease: for example, there can be genetic and environmental factors although the specifics are still not known. Lack of B vitamins such as biotin and riboflavin can also cause seborrheic dermatitis.
Symptoms of Scalp Seborrheic Dermatitis
The first symptom of seborrheic dermatitis is scalp inflammation, which can also cause itching and peeling.
The disease can greatly vary in severity. Ranging from very mild to very severe. Mild cases present with dandruff and itchiness, but without inflammation or other symptoms.
While severe forms of seborrheic dermatitis are characterized by red patches covered with greasy scales and crusts. Which can also become infected: when the skin breaks, sometimes bacteria can join fungi and cause a more severe infection.
While it usually is a mild disease, it is critical to treat seborrheic dermatitis: if left untreated, it can cause hair loss or even scarring.
Treatment of Seborrheic Dermatitis of the Scalp
The first step in treating seborrheic dermatitis consists of eliminating all factors that can contribute to the disease: for example, it is very important to keep the scalp clean, using an anti-fungal shampoo daily.
This is important because Malassezia furfur, the fungus that is most likely to cause seborrheic dermatitis, is capable of hydrolizing sebum, breaking it into saturated and unsaturated fatty acids. The fungus feeds on saturated fatty acids, leaving behind the unsaturated ones that can penetrate and break the skin, causing an irritation: apart from shampooing every day in order to remove sebum, it is also important to avoid using oil or conditioner on the scalp, as it might worsen the condition.
It is also important to eliminate all fonts of stress: while this may not always be possible, every little step counts. For example, try and go for a walk every day, get enough sleep and spend time outdoors.
Finally, any underlying disease that can cause seborrheic dermatitis must be addressed: this includes immunodeficiencies, which are often quite treatable, and any hormonal imbalance that might cause your scalp to flare up.
After all these steps have been taken, the treatment for seborrheic dermatitis can begin. It is something that is best discussed with a dermatologist, but it usually includes vitamins and anti-fungal drugs. A medicated shampoo can also be prescribed.
Traditional Methods of Seborrheic Dermatitis Treatment
Mild cases of seborrheic dermatitis can be treated with home remedies: while there are a lot of solutions that can help, if you have the disease on your scalp you will need to avoid any remedies that include oil or vaseline, as they might worsen your dermatitis.
Tea tree oil: which is an essential oil, and so it can be used on the scalp – has anti-fungal properties and is thus effective in treating dermatitis. In order to use it on the scalp, it is best to dilute it in pure aloe vera gel or juice, that also has soothing properties.
Nettle and sage teas can also be very useful: you just have to brew a strong tea, let it cool and apply it on your scalp. In order not to waste any, it is best to apply the tea with a spray bottle. You don’t even have to rinse it, you can just leave it to dry in your hair.
Natural remedy for seborrheic dermatitis in the sun: UV radiation can inhibit the growth of the Malassezia fungus, making the symptoms less severe in the summer. Don’t spend too much time in the sun, though, as the scalp burns very easily.