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How do I Choose the Best Seborrheic Dermatitis Treatment?

By Jacquelyn Gilchrist
Updated: May 17, 2024

Seborrheic dermatitis, a skin condition, is primarily treated through topical medications which are typically available in the form of lotions or shampoos. A doctor may also sometimes prescribe oral drugs to treat this disorder. Certain lifestyle changes can also help, such as wearing soft clothing and avoiding scratching. The best seborrheic dermatitis treatment will typically be to try the milder treatments first before moving on to the prescription drugs, if necessary.

This skin disorder causes scaly, itchy skin and dandruff. While it primarily affects the scalp, some patients may also have this problem on the face or other areas of the body. Over-the-counter anti-fungal creams applied daily may ease these symptoms. If your symptoms are severe and these creams do not help, your doctor can prescribe stronger medications, such as prescription-strength anti-fungal drugs or topical corticosteroids intended for topical application to the skin. Drugs for seborrheic dermatitis treatment include desonide or ketoconazole.

Sometimes, the doctor may also recommend oral medications for patients who have large areas of scaly skin. The drug typically used for this is called terbinafine. Severe cases of seborrheic dermatitis may require anti-inflammatory drugs that suppress the immune system; however, due to safety concerns, these are typically only tried after other treatments have failed. These medications, which include pimecrolimus and tacrolimus, are called immunomodulators. Long-term use of this seborrheic dermatitis treatment is not recommended.

Commonly, seborrheic dermatitis affects the scalp. Daily use of medicated dandruff shampoos can help alleviate symptoms. Patients should look for over-the-counter shampoos that contain ingredients like ketoconazole, selenium sulfide, or coal tar. Salicylic acid, pyrithione zinc, and resorcin, as well as ciclopirox are other active ingredients intended to control scalp scaling.

If these shampoos work to control symptoms, patients should then cut back to shampooing no more than two to three times per week to prevent excessively drying the scalp. When a shampoo does not work, patients should switch to a shampoo with a different active ingredient. They may also contact their doctor for a prescription-strength shampoo.

In addition to medications and shampoos for seborrheic dermatitis treatment, patients can alleviate their symptoms with a few lifestyle changes. They should wear soft, loose clothing to avoid irritating the skin. Mild cleanser only should be used on the skin and clothes may be laundered with a mild detergent. Men with facial hair who suffer from scaly skin on the face may benefit from shaving. Patients must refrain from scratching the affected areas.

When this skin disorder affects the very young, it is commonly called cradle cap. If you are looking for a seborrheic dermatitis treatment for your infant, bring him to a pediatrician first for professional recommendations. The pediatrician will likely recommend gentle scalp massages with a mild shampoo to loosen the scales. For tough scales, caregivers may apply mineral oil to the scalp before wrapping it with a warm, damp cloth prior to shampooing. Difficult cases of cradle cap may require a prescription-strength lotion.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
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