What is Seborrheic Dermatitis?

Commonly referred to as “dandruff” seborrheic dermatitis (SD) is a condition that affects the scalp. It is considered to be a long term condition that is difficult to treat.

What Causes Seborrheic Dermatitis?

Although the exact cause of SD is unknown, there are currently three theories as to how this condition occurs:

  • A fungal infection called malassezia appears on the skin from oils secreted by the hair onto the skin.
  • An autoimmune response that causes inflammation.
  • Environmental response to seasonal change (especially winter and spring).

What are the Symptoms of Seborrheic Dermatitis?

Those with SD often experience the following:

  • Heavy flaking of the scalp’s skin (dandruff). Often the skin becomes scaly and yellowish or white. This scaling can also appear in the facial hair, and even the eyebrows.
  • Red, irritated scalp or facial skin.
  • Increased eyelid crust (blepharitis).
  • Itching or stinging sensation.

Seborrheic dermatitis can also appear on other areas of the body besides the scalp such as the chest, genitals, and back.

Is there a Cure for Seborrheic Dermatitis?

There is no known cure at this time, but usually it can be controlled with prescription and over-the-counter remedies. There are certain formulated shampoos and topical creams that can ease the scaling. Ultimately, however, the skin condition often requires multiple treatments, and usually returns.

Seborrheic Dermatitis and Minoxidil (Rogaine)

A small number of people who have taken minoxidil (known as rogaine in North America) experienced a worsening of their preexisting SD condtion. The alcohol in minoxidil may further dry out the scalp and exacerbate the scaling symptoms. However, switching to the foam version of minoxidil may be enough to alleviate this problem while still being able to restore hair (the foam form contains less alcohol, and will not dry out the scalp for those who have seborrheic dermatitis).

How Prevalent is Seborrheic Dermatitis?

A 2011 North American study determines that this rare skin condition only affects 5% of the population. It typically affects males more often than females, and commonly presents itself around puberty (which causes further speculation that the condition is caused by an increase of activity in the oil-producing sebaceous glands), though instances have occurred in people older than fifty years of age. For whatever reason, the presence of the virus that causes HIV can often cause seborrheic dermatitis to manifest itself.

Should I Go to my Doctor?

Seborrheic dermatitis does not cause any damage to the skin tissue, nor is it indicative of a more serious disease. The condition is always present, but can wax and wane in intensity. It is also not a matter of poor hygiene as no degree of cleanliness can help to alleviate the condition.

As such, you should report seborrheic dermatitis to your doctor if you:

  • Feel especially self-conscious about the condition.
  • Have a skin infection as a result of seborrheic dermatitis.
  • Have not gotten relief from over-the-counter remedies (shampoos, etc.).

Your doctor may choose to prescribe an antifungal agent, an anti-inflammatory ointment, or antibiotics. Since this is a chronic condition, you will have to take necessary precautions as flare-ups arise.

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