If you have been diagnosed with seborrheic dermatitis and been warned about its increased chances of hair loss, the prospect will likely have caused you some concern. But while this condition is known to cause hair loss, incidences are rare and usually temporary.
This article will give you the facts about a condition that affects approximately 5% of the population. We’ll explain what seborrheic dermatitis is, what causes it, the symptoms you can expect, and which treatments you can use to manage it.
What is seborrheic dermatitis?
Seborrheic dermatitis is often referred to interchangeably with dandruff — largely because they share similar symptoms and treatments.
However, it is important to make their distinctions clear. Dandruff is much more common (affecting up to 50% of the population at some stage in their life), and affects a much smaller part of the body. It’s usually less extreme than seborrheic dermatitis.
Seborrheic dermatitis (SD) is a chronic skin condition that causes patches of red, flaky and greasy skin. Whereas dandruff affects only the scalp, SD can also affect the eyebrows, eyelids, in and around the ears, the lips, creases of the nose and the middle of the chest.
What are the symptoms of Seborrheic Dermatitis?
SD can often be confused with other conditions, especially in infants where it can be mistaken for nappy rash or eczema.
Its symptoms include:
- Scaly skin (usually white and flaking, or yellowish and oily)
- Itchy scalp
- Mild redness, inflammation or rash on the scalp
- Hair loss
These symptoms are caused by the seborrhoea that gives the condition its name. Seborrhoea is an overproduction of sebum, an oily secretion produced by the sebaceous glands in your hair follicles. This leads to scalp irritation and inflammation. The reaction to this — not the condition itself — can lead to hair loss. Scratching the scalp excessively damages the hair follicles and impedes hair growth.
This excess sebum production can have another unpleasant knock-on effect: an imbalance of Malassezia on the skin. Malassezia is a naturally occurring yeast found on most people’s skin, but seborrhoea can trigger an overgrowth that may compound the inflammation, further damaging your hair follicles.
The good news, at least, is that seborrheic dermatitis hair loss is not common or permanent. If steps are taken to control the inflammation and itchiness, the hair will eventually grow back by itself.
What causes seborrheic dermatitis?
There are various known risk factors for developing seborrheic dermatitis:
- Various medications, such as lithium and psoralen
- Chronic stress
- Weakened immune system
- Pre-existing conditions, including Parkinson’s disease, HIV, psoriasis, eating disorders, and recovery from a heart attack or stroke.
Seborrheic dermatitis is not contagious, so you can’t catch it from, or transmit it to, another person.
What can trigger a seborrheic dermatitis flare-up?
Several factors have been isolated as potential triggers, including:
- Extremely hot, cold or dry weather
- Increased stress
- Hormonal changes
- Reaction to ingredients (especially in soap or detergent)
What are the treatments for seborrheic dermatitis?
There’s currently no known cure for seborrheic dermatitis, but there are ways to treat and manage the symptoms. This chronic disease is likely to persist as a lifelong condition, with a variety of triggers that can cause sporadic flare-ups.
Proper treatment will alleviate the inflammation and help reverse any subsequent hair loss. However, attempting to treat the hair loss without first attending to the cause can actually exacerbate your symptoms.
The best treatment for each patient depends on their lifestyle, symptoms, and the severity of their condition. It’s advisable to weigh up the potential risks and side effects of each treatment with a trichologist before settling on your proposed course of action.
First, lifestyle changes that can improve dermatitis include choosing a hypoallergenic diet, and ensuring you get enough vitamins A, B, and C, as well as zinc and selenium. Learn more about the impact of vitamin supplements on hair growth.
Milder cases can be treated with home remedies like aloe vera and tea tree oil, although a consultation with a doctor is advised to prescribe the best treatment for your case. Doctors may suggest over-the-counter antifungal medication, followed by a prescription, if these are not successful.
Over the counter treatments
Medicated shampoo is often the first port-of-call when treating SD, assuming the condition has not been allowed to develop too much. Applied directly to the scalp, medicated shampoos include several of the chemicals listed below and help reduce dandruff, heal inflammation, and relieve itchiness.
Potential side-effects can include irritation, itchiness, dry scalp, and skin rashes.
Pyrithione zinc has antifungal and antibacterial properties. As well as being infused in shampoos to eliminate the fungi that causes itchy, flaky skin, it can also be found in creams and face washes.
Potential side-effects include a burning sensation on the scalp and skin peeling.
Ketoconazole is a robust anti-fungal medication, treating the fungal infection that causes SD flare-ups. It’s the active ingredient in Nizoral. Find out more about Nizoral shampoo and hair loss.
Its potential side-effects include dizziness, nausea, headaches and skin rash.
Salicylic acid softens the scales on the scalp caused by the excessive sebum production. It is an active ingredient in many conventional dandruff shampoos. While not treating the SD itself, it can be a useful remedy alongside other antifungal creams.
Potential side effects can include skin irritation, notably itchiness, peeling or burning.
Topical corticosteroids help reduce inflammation and itchiness, and some boast antifungal properties too. They usually come in a cream or ointment solution. Learn more about steroid creams for hair loss.
Hydrocortisone can cause skin irritation, nausea, dizziness and insomnia.
Hair is a hugely important factor in our sense of self, so premature hair loss can be alarming. Fortunately, hair loss from seborrheic dermatitis is rare and temporary, so even if you experience it, managing the symptoms can reverse your hair loss.
If you’re concerned about any scalp or hair condition, it’s a good idea to speak with a trichologist. They’ll be able to discuss your treatment options with you, so you can manage your condition and swiftly reverse any hair loss. Book a free consultation with a Harley Street hair clinic for a free consultation.
If you have any further issues with hair loss and want to speak to one of our friendly specialists, contact us and we’ll get in touch with you shortly.
Mayo Clinic Staff (2018) – Seborrheic Dermatitis
American Hair Loss Association – Infectious Agents
Medical News Today- Seborrheic Dermatitis
National Library of Medicine – Skin disorders in Parkinson’s disease: potential biomarkers and risk factors
US Pharmacist – Is it dandruff or seborrheic dermatitis?
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