As the weather starts to warm up, I see a variety of skin conditions flare-up in my patients. Many people come in with a red rash on their face complaining that their acne isn’t clearing up, others say that their primary care physician diagnosed them with facial psoriasis, and still others complain of an itchy scalp and exuberant dandruff. All of these complaints are actually the same condition, a common but little known entity by the name of seborrheic dermatitis or seb derm for short.  Seborrheic Dermatitis is a skin condition that causes scaly patches and red skin, mainly on the scalp but also common on the face and body.  The skin tends to have a reddish color, a swollen and greasy appearance, and a white or yellowish crusty scale on the surface.  In people of color, seborrheic dermatitis may actually lead to a lightening of the skin, which can be very distressing. This is because the yeast that causes seborrheic dermatitis produces a by-product that causes pigment cells to be under-active.

This post has been sponsored by Pharmaceutical Specialties, Inc., the makers of Vanicream.  I’m excited to be partnering with PSICO to bring you information about common skin conditions, OTC treatment options, and giveaways! Don’t miss the great giveaway at the end of this post.

If you think you might have Seborrheic Dermatitis, read on for more information about this skin condition and my suggested treatment plans.

How Did I Get Seborrheic Dermatitis? 

This condition does not have a definitive cause but studies have indicated that there are many factors that work in combination to cause the condition.  These factors can include yeast that normally lives on our skin, genetics, living in a cold and dry climate, stress, and a person’s overall health. The condition is not caused by poor personal hygiene, allergies, and does not cause harm to the body.  Seb derm can affect people of all colors and ages but infants 3 months of age and younger and adults between 30 and 60 years of age are most susceptible.  There are certain medical conditions that increases the risk of developing Seb Derm, including HIV, Acne, and Parkinson’s.  (Reference

Since Seb Derm can mimic many other skin conditions (psoriasis, eczema, or an allergic reaction), it’s important to consult with a dermatologist for diagnosis and treatment.  A dermatologist will review your medical history and examine the rash to determine the diagnosis and treatment plan.

There is no cure for Seborrheic Dermatitis but a treatment plan can help to reduce symptoms and minimize flare ups.  Treatment generally includes using a medicated soap that contains zinc pyrithione 2%.  Zinc Pyrithione 2% has antifungal properties that will help to treat a variety of skin conditions.  Depending on the location of the flare-up, treatment plans will vary.  A gentle, over-the-counter treatment is recommended for mild cases of Seb Derm – read more about the products and treatment plans I recommend below.

 Photos from showing examples of Seborrheic Dermatitis


Treating the Scalp

There are a number of shampoos available that will help to reduce Seb Derm on the scalp.  Vanicream makes a free & clear anti-dandruff shampoo (affiliate) that contains zinc pyrithione 2%.  I’ve raved about other Vanicream products on the blog before and this shampoo is at the top of my list for those that suffer from Seb Derm on the scalp.  The ingredients are clean and will help to minimize seb derm and relieve irritation.  To start, apply shampoo to the scalp and leave in place for five to ten minutes before rinsing (do this daily or every other day).  Once under control, this treatment can be reduced to once or twice weekly. 

Treating the Face & Body 

When Seb Derm develops on the face many people think that it is acne or eczema and treat it as such.  This will only further irritate the skin.  A soap that contains zinc pyrithione 2% is necessary to help eliminate the yeast that is contributing to the skin condition.  The Vanicream Z-Bar (affiliate) is what I recommend for Seb Derm on the Face & Body. 

For intense flare-ups that are itchy, applying Vanicream HC 1% Hydrocortisone Anti-Itch Cream(affiliate) can help to reduce the itch.  This product contains hydrocortisone, which is a mild topical steroid. It is very helpful for mild seborrhea, but it is important that it be used sparingly on the face (no more that nightly for 3 days at a time), as excessive steroid use on the face can lead to steroid rosacea.

Seborrheic Dermatitis in Babies

Many babies develop a rash on their scalp during infancy, also known as cradle cap.  The condition can also present in other areas of the body.  Babies require a different approach for treatment which I’ll cover separately.  Stay tuned for a blog on treating cradle cap in babies.

 Final Tips for managing Seb Derm

  • Seb derm often presents at flakiness which people assume to be dry skin. The source of the problem is more likely a combination of oil and yeast which need to be removed from the skin. Resist the urge to over moisturize with creams and oils. A light moisturizer is recommended.

  • Don’t pick the flakes! If you constantly pick at the flakes you can cause more irritation (which will likely result in excess oil and make the condition even worse).

  • Allow hair to dry before putting it up in a ponytail or braid. Piling wet hair on top of your head will result in a moisture trap.

Since warmer weather is here and we’re seeing a lot of Seborrheic Dermatitis flare-ups in the office, we’ve teamed up with Vanicream to offer 12 ‘Seb Derm Kits’ to our readers.  This kit includes the products highlighted in this post.  This giveaway is now closed, congratulations to the 12 winners!!


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