What is Seborrhea?
Seborrhea involves the inflammation of the skin in localized parts of the body. Seborrhea typically occurs in areas of high oil production like the scalp, the face – especially alongside the nose and on the eyebrows – the chest, the underarms and within folds of loose, hanging skin. Although seborrhea is most commonly manifested as dandruff on the scalp, it’s not unusual for people to experience it in their abdominal folds or even on their ears.
Seborrhea is one of the most common skin conditions, affecting up to five percent of the population. Men are more likely to suffer from seborrhea, as are the elderly, but it occurs in people of all ages. In fact, many newborns exhibit the symptoms of seborrhea – a form of skin eczema that results in dry, flaky scales and patches – on their scalps; when this happens, the condition is known as “cradle cap.”
Seborrhea can manifest itself in several different ways. Because it makes the skin appear dry, sufferers often mistakenly believe it is dry skin. This condition most commonly appears as:
- reddish-brown, dry or thick, greasy scales and patches on various parts of the face
- thick, flaky patches and scales on the scalp – known as dandruff – which often leave telltale white flakes in the hair and even on the shoulders
- reddish, scaly patches in the folds of the body – especially the underarms and the abdominal folds
What Causes Seborrhea?
The precise cause or causes of seborrhea are unknown, which is why the condition cannot be cured and can only be managed or treated. Some researchers believe that the main culprit behind outbreaks of seborrhea may be excessive levels of certain yeasts in the skin. It should be noted, however, that seborrhea is not a yeast infection and should not be treated as such. Others believe that seborrhea may be some sort of immune system response, especially since it often occurs in patients with immune systems that have been weakened by disease or by certain treatments.
Since seborrhea is a form of skin inflammation, one course of action is to fight the inflammation itself. This is why cortisone-based medications are often used to treat various manifestations of seborrhea. Antifungal medications are also sometimes used, since excessive amounts of a yeast called Malassezia furfur may be to blame. Medications for treating seborrhea are usually recommended in shampoo or cream forms, and there are other ways to treat the condition as well.
In the case of seborrhea of the scalp, or dandruff, several over-the-counter shampoos are available. The most effective ingredients to look for include:
- salicylic acid
- selenium sulfide
- zinc pyrithione
Shampoos should be used once or twice per week until symptoms subside. When the seborrhea is under control, you should discontinue the use of the medicated shampoos until the symptoms appear again – which they will, since seborrhea and dandruff are waxing and waning conditions.
Cortisone-based creams and antifungal creams are often used to treat seborrhea. Usually, the following are recommended:
- 0.5% to 1% concentrations of cortisone in a topical cream, gel or ointment
- antifungal creams such as 1% clotrimazole or 2% miconazole, in order to reduce and inhibit the growth of yeast
Severe or resistant forms of seborrhea can be treated with prescription medications such as:
- higher concentrations of cortisone in the form of gels, liquids and foams
- non-steroid creams such as tacrolimus or pimecrolimis
Exposure to UV-A and UV-B rays may help reduce the symptoms of seborrhea. Frequent washing of the hands, especially before touching the head or the face, can also help. If you wear glasses, clean them frequently with rubbing alcohol. Finally, an air humidifier may alleviate the symptoms of seborrhea.
Severe, untreated cases of seborrhea may result in temporary hair loss due to excessive skin inflammation. Permanent hair loss can arise when the hair follicles become irrevocably damaged due to inflammation during seborrhea. It should also be noted that when seborrhea of the eyebrows occurs, extreme caution must be used when applying or using cortisone-based creams.
There is no cure for seborrhea; since the cause is unclear, preventing it is also not definitively possible. Washing the hair and skin regularly to keep oil or sebum to a minimum can help, as can moderate amounts of sun exposure. Fortunately, seborrhea – including dandruff – can be managed so that it does not interfere with the sufferer’s life to an extreme degree.