Seborrhea translates as "too much oil." Actually, this skin condition has little to do with having too much oil on the skin. Skin can look dry or red, and seborrheic dermatitis usually expresses itself as dandruff on the scalp. It can affect other skin areas. Dandruff or flaking skin may result in eyebrows, or eyelashes, and can be present on the face, under the breasts, the underarms, groin, navel and buttocks.
Although it may appear that way, those suffering with seborrhea do not have excessively dry skin. What actually causes the irritation and inflammation associated with this condition is not known at this time. It is also not curable, though its symptoms can be addressed and treated, and occasionally it goes into remission or occurs in cycles. At times, a person may be free from seborrhea and then find that the symptoms reemerge.
Seborrhea can affect anybody, at any time of life. Newborns often get a form called cradle cap. In adults, it is more likely to affect men then women, occurs with regularity in the elderly, and in those who suffer from AIDs and Parkinson’s disease. Though seborrhea is incurable, it is usually easily controlled.
Although seborrhea is not a yeast infection, yeast build-up on the skin can exacerbate the problem. This is why shampoos to treat dandruff typically have anti-fungal components, most commonly selenium sulfide, zinc, salicylic acid and tar. Tar is banned in shampoos available in the US as a known carcinogen. Sufferers can also try shampoos containing tea tree oil, as these may help address the symptoms. Shampoo to treat dandruff is also available by prescription. These often contain ketoconazole, a strong anti-fungal medicine, which may be needed when over-the-counter (OTC) shampoos don’t work.
Seborrhea present on areas of the skin aside from the head may be treated with anti-fungal drugs or with steroid creams. Sometimes OTC versions of these medications are strong enough to treat the problem. For more severe cases, stronger prescription medications are required.
Usually, when OTC medications or medicated shampoo is used, it is recommended that people switch to normal shampoo after the problem has resolved. Over time, using the same anti-fungal medications to treat seborrhea can become less effective. Patients can switch to a new product, which frequently helps, but most doctors recommend only using OTC shampoos or creams as needed.
Seborrhea can also cause extreme itching. Normally, dandruff shampoos, especially OTC ones, will not address this. Seborrhea present on other parts of the skin may also itch and may not be helped by OTC drugs. When this is the case, steroid creams, gels, or foams are usually the most helpful, for both hair and body, since they can reduce skin inflammation that results in itching and flaking of the skin.
Other conditions can resemble seborrhea but require different treatments. These include rosacea, psoriasis, and yeast infections. Anyone who has persistent itching, flaking or redness of the skin, especially on parts of the body aside from the scalp, should see a dermatologist to get a correct diagnosis.