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Scalp Care: How to Treat Seborrheic Dermatitis

• Oct 7, 2014


I have previously discussed seborrheic dermatitis which is also known as seborrheic eczema or scalp eczema in some detail and I would highly recommend some extra reading links here and here for those of you who want some extra detail. It remains a very popular topic as it can be difficult to tackle and can be very uncomfortable to live with. Here is a summary of what you need to know.

1. What is seborrheic dermatitis
The word itis refers to inflammation (pain, swelling, redness) and derma refers to skin therefore dermatitis is inflammation of the skin. Seborrheic refers to sebaceous glands that produce oil. Therefore putting it all together, seborrheic dermatitis is inflammation of areas of the skin that have many oil producing glands and rich in sebum (e.g scalp, face, upper back/chest).

2. What are the signs?
Inflammation — pain, swelling, redness- is a key indicator. Additionally for the scalp, scaling and flaking similar to dandruff but which may be greasy and yellow in colour.

3. What causes it?
It is not fully understood but a type of fungus Malassezia (yes the same one that causes dandruff) is thought to play a role. Now to be clear we ALL have Malassezia it is perfectly normal to have this fungus on skin, people with seborrheic dermatitis are NOT dirty. Those with seborrheic dermatitis appear to be very sensitive to this fungus and therefore develop the characteristic inflammation.

4. How to treat seborrheic dermatitis

Go to your doctor
It is really important to get diagnosed properly by a doctor if you think you have seborrheic dermatitis. This is because it has overlaps with other skin conditions such as psoriasis or even simple dandruff. Additionally steroid treatments or even pills may be necessary for some and this really requires a doctor’s monitoring.

Avoid natural oils
Oleic acid is a fatty acid(oil-like) which is found in almost all natural oils including coconut, shea butter, olive and castor oil. Oleic acid is the food that the fungus Malassezia loves. If you cannot part with your natural oil pick one with low oleic acid content e.g jojoba or castor oil and avoid placing the oil on the scalp.

Anti dandruff shampoos

These often really do work. They contain effective antifungal agents such as pyrithione zinc and ketoconazole. There are prescription strength shampoos available too if the over the counter stuff is not working for you.

Natural solutions

As seborrheic dermatitis has fungal involvement, the natural route involves an antifungal approach. The catch here is that many natural oils which contain oleic acid may also be antifungal in nature e.g neem and coconut oil. One study from scientists in Iran showed that henna extracted in water has some antifungal activity on Malassezia — the correct fungus to target. The only downside is that the henna was left for around 3 days at a time. This is typically not the norm for most henna users but it is not to say that it cannot work within a shorter time period as this was not tested (JJmicrobiol, p125, 2010). A separate study showed that a raw honey /water solution left on hair for 3 hours daily could stop itching and flaking in 1–2 weeks (Eur J Med Res 2001, pg 306–308,2001).

Lifestyle factors
Many people with seborrheic dermatitis report flare ups when stressed (including depression) or when unwell. Working with your doctor is important as some medication can also be a trigger.


Ladies, do any of you struggle with seborrheic dermatitis? How do you cope?

Additional References for this article
1. Current Science, pp1336-1345, 2002
2. J Investig Dermatol Symp Proc, pp 15–19, 2007
3. J Investig Dermatol Symp Proc ‚pp194–7, 2005
4. Science ‚pp304–307, 2004
5. JEADV, pp 16–26, 2014
6. Annales de Dermatologie et de Vénéréologie, pp 833–837, 2007

About The Natural Haven

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26 Comments on "Scalp Care: How to Treat Seborrheic Dermatitis"

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I have SD and its a balancing act to control it without drying my hair out. I have to wash my hair weekly or it flares up. I prepoo my scalp with raw manuka honey and I use an oil free/or very low oil shampoo. I never cowash. I tried the raw honey out of desperation because my prescription steroid was becoming ineffective.


articles like this are what keep me coming back to this website. I have psoriasis and while it never completely disappears the tips on natural products and other suggestions have helped me control the symptoms and feel less embarrassed about it. Good job, BGLH xx


I have struggling with SD/persistent itchy/oily dandruff for about 15 years now. I have tried prescriptions, over-the-counter remedies and natural remedies–all to no avail. I haven’t given up on finding a solution though.


Have you tried dead sea salt?

Chala Brooks

I have this condition. I control it with washing with prescription shampoo, Sulfur 8 shampoo, and Sulfur 8 grease. The grease helps calm my scalp down when it flares up in like 15 minutes and I can wear my hairstyles longer than a few days. By alternating between these methods, my life isn’t controlled by this medical condition. I am also thinking about doing a juice cleans to see if detoxing my body can help. If it doesn’t work at least I will be healthier. I am hopeful it will work.

Great article! This is exactly what my dermatologist told me! I massage coconut oil on my scalp a few times a week during flare ups and it helps (a little). I also wash weekly like Zoopath…I’ve been on the Clear Scalp for Men anti-dandruff shampoo for a few months now and it so far it seems to work as a anti-dandruff shampoo that’s non-drying. I use the men’s version because it’s a shampoo and conditioner in one (which is probably why it’s less drying). My dermatologist also prescribed a steroid that I can rub on the problem areas if the… Read more »
I’ve been battling with SD for a while now and I find that what has been helping is once a week using Bentonite clay with ACV as a prepoo deep conditioner and then Trader Joe’s tea tree tingle shampoo and conditioner or SheaMoisture’s African Black Soap and Conditioner. To keep my hair from being stripped if it’s feeling extra dry I detangle/prepoo with coconut oil before using the clay mix. I know that because these items are used to clarify I make sure to deep condition weekly to make sure my hair stays moisturized. Also I am very conscious about… Read more »


I am somebody who has not just flaky but kind of a scaly scalp situation PLUS so much itchines after like 1 or 2 days after washing.
I have tried EVERYTHING and nothing worked. my doctor prescribed clobetasol propionate foam to me and it was like my whole life changed. I can truly go weeks w/ out washing my hair without itchiness & flaking.

**word to the wise , when you apply to your scalp there is like 2 seconds of a tingling burn but just rub it into your scalp & you’ll be fine**

Thea D. Parker

OMG!! When I was first diagnosed 12 years ago a dermatologist prescribed me this foam. I moved from IL and totally forgot what the name of it was. I have been searching FOREVER for some relief! You have saved your life by telling me the name of this foam. Nothing I have tried has soothed my burning flaking or itching like it. Eternal peace, love & light my sista!

I diagnosed myself with this condition a few months ago, though from what my mother has described, I’ve had it for my whole life. I haven’t tried any drugstore/prescription remedies because I wanted to try something natural first. I use DEAD SEA SALT (not regular sea salt). I bought 10lbs of it from an online retailer. After I shampoo/condition/deep condition, I take some dead sea salt (just a little) in an applicator bottle with some warm water and basically rinse my scalp with it and rub it in a little before I rinse. I definitely notice a difference. I still… Read more »

I should also change my diet. I’ve always had a pretty terrible diet (lots of sweets and not enough fruits and vegetables). My scalp health may be another one of the many things I could improve my making more nutritious healthy choices.

I have dealt with this all my life and there is one thing that worked for me as a child. It is called Cuticura medicated ointment. It used to be available in small, local drugstores and apothecaries. I recently found their website and found that I can order it from I shampoo, deep condition my hair, then grease my scalp with the ointment. It will tingle and you don’t need to put too much. If you use it, you will probably need to shampoo your hair once a week. That’s what I do. One tube usually lasts me quite… Read more »

I was washing my hair every three days with Nizoral and for the first time since I can remember, my scalp was clear. I went about a week without it and now Nizoral doesn’t work. I have no idea what to do as I have tried most everything out there. I do not have health insurance so going to a doctor is out of the question. I have no idea what else to do. I leave flakes everywhere I go.

Hi Kaitlin, I know that they say natural oils are bad, but I use them anyway. I use a hot oil treatment on my scalp that I made up, before I wash my hair. It kept my hair flake free for almost a month, but after a little while the itching slowly came back before the flakes. 1. 1 cup of distilled water 2. 1 cup of aloe vera gel 3. 2–3 scoops of coconut oil 4. 1–2 tsp. of pure honey 5. 10–15 drops of pure tea tree oil 6. 15–20 drops of pure peppermint oil 7. warm it… Read more »

Hi! Organic Root Stimulator shampoo worked ok for me for a while, but now I have been using Keracare Anti-Dandruff Moisturizing Shampoo and Conditioner and this has made a HUGE difference! (I wash every 2 weeks). My scalp is calmer and clear. Hope it helps!

Lady Dee Cee

I use ACV diluted w/ water. Spray then Massage into scalp. rinse out after 15 minutes. Then wash w/ your normal dandruff shampoo. The ACV kills the fungus that causes seborroheic dermatitis & dandruff.

Ana Trebmal
I have been diagnosed with this condition by a trichologist. The build up of oils was so bad it clogged the pores and caused severe hair loss. She recommended Softsheen Carlson Dandruff Control which worked wonders! I loved it! Now that is off the market 🙁 . I can’t believe they stopped catering to people with this issue. I started using WOW castor oil made in Jamaica which is somehow different from the popular ones sold online. That was fantastic at moisturizing AND keeping scalp problem free. Now that is off the market too. I have tried several other brands… Read more »
Taylor Jamerson
I use Argan oil to seal my hair and try not to directly put any oills on my scalp this works for me and I stay very Very Very far from shea butter it makes my scalp go insane. Using those oils like coconut, olive oil, or and other will help for a while but slowly feed the yeast which will cause your break out to worse in the end and make it harder to treat. That came from my doctor and when she said it I was like thats exactly whats been happening. Ive had SD since a child… Read more »
Katherine Woods
I had this problem my whole life. I never knew what it was until I was 19 thanks to hair stylist at the time. I’ve always had terrible really dark dandruff and patches until I went natural. When I used to get my hair pressed and stuff my hair would stay dirty ALL of the time! I could never understand why people thought that greasing your scalp was the answer. Oils/grease just sits on my scalp. Every time it felt like. I’m just now getting to a point where castor oil and tea tree oil works only oiling my scalp… Read more »
Dont Care
Hi guys, After having acne (12 years), seb derm (5 years), oily skin (don’t know since when), dry skin (occasionally) I finally cured them all 100%. How? By not doing ANYTHING. And by learning not to care. At all. Seriously. While the healing of all these did not occur overnight, one thing changed immediately — I was feeling a free happy man after I stopped giving a rat’s ass about such superficial problems; after I stopped looking myself in the mirror 5 times a day; after I started living without caring if I have a pimple if my face was… Read more »

I had this same exact problem! All I had to do was put coconut oil. It works this made my hair grow from little hair to bra length. Coconut oil is also good for dry skin, nails and eczema.

Tye yIII

I’m a young guy notice I’m losing my hait in the front of my hairline/back of my head also. I got flaking, red scalp, n wanted to know the best method to fix this problem

First time posting. I wanted to help anyone who needs it. I have battled this for 1 year and my hair was thinning and breaking from this. It was bad. I tried EVERYTHING from selsun blue, then, head and shoulders, Jason organics, to expensive medicated fungus shampoos. I even tried natural essential oils and nearly every and any kind. I mean I tried Braggs apple cider.…I searched online you say it I DID IT! TILL FINALLY…I FOUND OUT WHAT HELPED ME! It’s a bit crazy to say but if you need the help here you go. I bought Taliah Waajid… Read more »

What do you mean you no longer wash your hair? how do you handle product buildup?

I’ve had seborrheic dermatitis for 7 years and at first it was really rough. The symptoms I had at first were that my hair would shed like crazy if I didn’t wash it every 4 days and it would stink as well. I didn’t have any flakes at that point. The medicated shampoos didn’t really help because I still had to wash my hair every 4 days and they dried my hair out like crazy. I did some research and found out that garlic shampoo could help the problem. So, I started using Queen Helene Garlic shampoo and it worked… Read more »
Temickab b
I learned the hard way to stay away from oils. So what the hell do us natural girls do to keep our hair moisturized without sealing with oil? I was sealing with oil and my wash and goes were beautiful but the hair that hung down on my face, neck and ears. Thats when my Sebbhoreic dermatitis started to attack my face and ears. I was peeling out scabs and crusts from inside and behind my ears OMG it was horrible. The sebbhoreic dermatitis attacked my face because the oils i was using was using to seal my ends touched… Read more »

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