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Seborrhoeic dermatitis (SD) is a skin condition that commonly affects the scalp, and it causes a red skin with scaly patches and dandruff that's stubborn. SD can also affect areas of the body where sebum (an oily substance produced by the sebaceous glands) is produced such as the back, upper chest and face. SD is also known as seborrhoeic eczema, dandruff and in infants, cradle cap.

Most of the time, SD is a long-term condition and patients may need multiple episodes of treatments before the issue is resolved. A combination of self-care therapies and medications can be used to manage SD.

Home remedies and suggestions

Many products to manage SD are available as over-the-counter products and you may have to try different products or a combination of them before you notice any improvement.

Anti-dandruff shampoos

These include products such as:

  • Shampoos that contain selenium or pyrithione zinc which are used daily.
  • Antifungal shampoos containing ketoconazole. These are used twice a week and alternated with your daily shampoo.
  • Salicylic acid shampoo used on a daily basis.
  • Tar shampoo.

Other home remedies

The following are self-care tips and over-the-counter suggestions that may help manage SD:

  • Apply olive or mineral oil to your scalp to soften and remove scales. Leave it in for an hour, then brush your hair and wash the oil out.
  • Wash your skin well to rinse soap completely off from your scalp and body. Clean your face and body with gentle soaps and use moisturizers.
  • Use a mild corticosteroid or antifungal cream. 
  • Don't use products that contain alcohol as they can worsen the condition.
  • Wear smooth-textured cotton clothing as this helps to reduce irritation.
  • SD can be worse under beards or moustaches, so consider shaving these off.
  • Scratching can increase irritation and the risk of infection, so try avoid to do so. Calamine lotion can be applied to the affected area to relieve itching.
  • If your baby has cradle cap, wash the scalp with a non-medicated baby shampoo daily. Thereafter, loosen the scales gently with a soft-bristled brush before washing out the shampoo.

Alternative options

  • Tea tree oil can be used on its own or with your shampoo to manage SD. You may just want to be careful with this product as it can cause an allergic reaction in some individuals.
  • Omega-3 supplementation.
  • Aloe vera cream used two times a day for 4-6 weeks.

Medical management

If the over-the-counter products and self-care suggestions haven't worked, then you may consider consulting your doctor to attempt the following recommendations:

  • Prescription-strength desonide, fluocinolone or Hydrocortisone can be used to try and control the inflammation caused by SD.
  • Ketoconazole shampoo can be effective when it's alternated with a clobetasol product two times a week.
  • Oral antifungal medication. This is reserved for patients with severe fungal infections where topical therapy is ineffective.
  • Immune-modulating medications.
  • Antibacterial gels or creams used 1-2 times a day if there's an underlying bacterial infection.
  • Ultraviolet light therapy combined with oral or topical psoralen. This therapy may not work for people with thick hair though.

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