When I was in esthetics school we discussed skin diseases, and I do remember that seborrhea was mentioned. According to my textbook from school (yes, I still have my textbook) they divide seborrhea and seborrhea dermatitis into two different categories:
Seborrhea: Severe oiliness of the skin; an abnormal secretion from the sebaceous glands
Seborrheic Dermatitis: A common form of eczema
(From Milady’s Standard Fundamentals for Estheticians, 9th edition, page 203)
Before I became an esthetician I had come across a common form of seborrheic dermatitis which is cradle cap. My son had had severe cradle cap as an infant so I was quite aware of what that was. Yet once I was introduced to the concept of seborrhea as explained above, “severe oiliness of the skin”, I didn’t come across this condition at all while working in the US. Then I moved back to Israel and I couldn’t believe how many people I encountered for facials that would tell me they had seborrhea. I was surprised to say the least. I couldn’t figure out how in one part of the world I had never come across this condition and in another part of the world I couldn’t seem to escape it. I wondered if the definition of this skin condition had changed from country to country, from language to language. The skincare companies that I worked with in the US never mentioned this condition to me or had products that treated it, unlike Israeli skincare companies that do both. Truthfully I am still trying to figure this one out, but in the meantime I realized that I better brush up on my knowledge about seborrhea.
What is Seborrheic Dermatitis?
Dr. Carl Thornfeldt in his book The New Ideal In Skin Health defines seborrheic dermatitis as (page 86):
These lesions are usually found on areas of the body with more sebaceous glands, such as the forehead, eyebrows, around the nose and ears, scalp, midchest, and central trunk. It is characterized by greasy yellow scaling on erythematous patches of various thicknesses. It usually has no itching. It may be associated with rosacea. Dandruff is a mild form on the scalp. It is most common in infants (cradle cap) and elderly. It may also be flared by physical and emotional stress.
The skin tends to have a:
- Reddish color.
- Swollen and greasy appearance.
- White or yellowish crusty scale on the surface.
One or more of these rashes can appear on the body. Sometimes, the affected skin itches.
Seborrheic dermatitis can look like psoriasis, eczema, or a skin allergy.
What Causes Seborrheic Dermatitis?
The Mayo Clinic explains:
Doctors don’t yet know the cause of seborrheic dermatitis. Factors that may play a role include:
- A yeast (fungus) called Malassezia. This fungus is one of the normal microscopic life forms that grow, along with certain bacteria, in your skin’s oily secretion (sebum). Creams, foams or lotions containing an antifungal agent, such as ketoconazole (Ketozole, Extina), often help reduce flare-ups, supporting the idea that this yeast is a contributing factor. But seborrheic dermatitis itself isn’t considered an infection, and it’s not contagious.
- Change of season. Episodes are often worse in winter.
- Neurological conditions. Seborrheic dermatitis may occur more frequently in people who have Parkinson’s disease and certain other neurological disorders.
- Stress and fatigue. Stressful life events and situations may help trigger an episode or make it worse through mechanisms that aren’t yet understood. The role of neurological disorders and stress may be related through effects on the nervous system.
- HIV/AIDS. Seborrheic dermatitis may occur more commonly and tend to be more severe in those with HIV/AIDS.
The American Academy of Dermatology expands on the causes and just who is affected by seborrheic dermatitis:
Who gets seborrheic dermatitis?
People of all colors and ages get seborrheic dermatitis. You have a higher risk if any of the following apply to you.
People in these two age groups are most susceptible:
- Infants 3 months of age and younger.
- Adults between 30 and 60 years of age.
Your risk increases if you have any of these medical conditions:
- HIV (About 85 percent of people infected with HIV develop seborrheic dermatitis).
- Acne, rosacea, or psoriasis.
- Parkinson’s disease.
- Stroke or heart attack (recovering from).
- Eating disorder.
If you are taking any of the following medicines, your risk for seborrheic dermatitis increases:
Facts about Seborrheic Dermatitis
For adults there is both good news and bad news about seborrheic dermatitis. The good news is that the condition can be treated by a doctor and/or with proper home care. The bad news is that this is chronic condition, with no cure. According to the Mayo Center:
Seborrheic dermatitis doesn’t affect your overall health, but it can be uncomfortable and cause embarrassment when it develops on visible parts of your body. It isn’t contagious, and it’s not a sign of poor personal hygiene. Seborrheic dermatitis tends to recur, but you may be able to manage flare-ups by recognizing its signs and symptoms and by using a combination of self-care steps and over-the-counter (nonprescription) medications.
How to Treat Seborrheic Dermatitis
First and foremost if you think that you are suffering from seborrheic dermatitis go see a dermatologist before trying to treat yourself. The doctor can determine if you need prescription products or not to keep your condition under control. Some skin conditions simply cannot be treated with over the counter products but with seborrheic dermatitis it depends on the severity of the condition.
The Mayo Clinic explains further how to treat this condition:
Seborrheic dermatitis tends to be chronic, and there’s usually no strategy that stops it permanently. But treatments — including many you can try at home — may control your signs and symptoms during a flare-up. The best approach for you depends on your skin type, the severity of your condition, and whether your symptoms affect your scalp or other areas of your body.
Creams and lotions that you apply to affected body areas and medicated shampoos are all mainstays of treatment. In very severe cases, physicians may prescribe oral medications with whole-body effects. Products are available with several kinds of active ingredients. Some preparations include active ingredients from more than one category.
The following over-the-counter treatments and self-care tips can help you control and manage seborrheic dermatitis.
- Wash your hair with a medicated anti-dandruff shampoo according to the recommended schedule. If you don’t see results, try a shampoo with a different active ingredient.
- Use an over-the-counter antifungal cream. Application of nonprescription-strength ketoconazole may be helpful.
- Apply an anti-itch cream or lotion to the affected area. A short course of a nonprescription hydrocortisone cream containing at least 1 percent hydrocortisone can temporarily relieve itching.
- Avoid harsh soaps and detergents. Be sure to rinse soap completely off your body and scalp.
- Wear smooth-textured cotton clothing. This will help keep air circulating around your skin and avoid irritation.
- Shave off your beard or mustache. Seborrheic dermatitis can be worse under mustaches and beards. If this is the case for you, shaving might ease your symptoms.
- Avoid scratching whenever possible. Scratching can increase irritation, making you more uncomfortable and increasing your risk of infection.
What else can you do at home to keep your condition under control? Dr. Thornfeldt recommends in his book using a gentle facial cleanser that doesn’t strip the skin’s pH. He recommends that the homecare products that:
… contain ingredients such as low concentrations (<2%) azelaic acid, salicylic acid, zinc pryrithone and/or willow bark extract to help kill surface bacteria, reduce redness and scaling, and smooth skin texture. (Page 87)
The American Academy of Dermatology recommends the following:
Adolescents and adults: Skin
- Wash the skin daily with a soap that contains 2% zinc pyrithione.
- Soften scale by:
- Wetting the skin thoroughly before washing.
- Applying a moisturizer after bathing.
- Applying a tar cream, letting it sit on the skin for several hours before rinsing.
- Applying a cream containing salicylic acid and sulfur.
- Do not use petroleum jelly to soften the scales. It tends to worsen seborrheic dermatitis.
Bottom Line: In adults seborrheic dermatitis is a chronic condition without an actual cure. Proper home care coupled with prescription medications can help keep this skin condition under control.
Sources and Further Reading:
- Seborrheic Dermatitis – Mayo Clinic
- Seborrheic Dermatitis – American Academy of Dermatology
- Seborrheic Dermatitis – National Rosacea Society
Image from http://www.aad.org