Topical Natural Treaments for Seborrheic Dermatitis, Dandruff, Cradle Cap, and Itchy Scalp

by in Cradle Cap, Dandruff, Kitchen Sink, Reader Questions, Seborrheic Dermatitis, Skin Care June 20, 2008

aloe.jpgQ. What can I use topically for my seborrheic dermatitis?

A. The itchy scalp condition of seborrheic dermatitis, commonly referred to as “dandruff” can be extremely frustrating. The course is typically insidious and tends to worsen over time in adults.

I am not a fan of many topical treatments for skin conditions as a long term plan because it is not “Treating the Cause” of the condition. Long term goals like the improvement of diet and lifestyle are the foundations to any good natural approach to addressing this itchy and frustrating scalp condition.

But, since the question was asked, I will indeed answer it.

The best herbs to use topically for this condition are aloe vera, calendula, grindelia, comfrey, and stellaria to reduce itching. To kill the P. ovale yeast that is typically prevalent with seborrheic dermatitis, you can use anti-fungal herbs such as tea tree oil, rosemary, thyme, and lavender topically in the same manner that prescription pharmaceutical shampoos are used and designed to kill the yeast. A good herbal formula kills the yeast while soothing the itch of the scalp.

The most convenient way to reduce itching on the scalp is with a spray.

Supplies needed from health food store: aloe vera juice, calendula succus (if not available make a very strong calendula tea with the dried herb), tea tree oil, lavender oil, and rosemary oil. In a pinch you can just spray chilled aloe vera juice directly on your scalp as needed throughout the day. Feel free to adjust the following formula as needed.


In a twenty ounce spray bottle combine:

  • 15 ounces of aloe vera juice (buy food grade).
  • 4 ounces of calendula succus (juice) or calendula tea (made VERY strong).
  • 15 drops of lavender essential oil.
  • 5-10 drops of tea tree oil (start with 5 drops and double if not found to be irritating).
  • 5-10 drops of rosemary essential oil (also increase as needed).

Shake the formula each time before using, and store in the refrigerator for the ultimate cooling effect. Spray on your scalp twice daily to kill yeast and reduce itching, or use as needed.


Rinse your hair immediately if you experience any burning or worsening of symptoms. If your symptoms do not improve, you may opt to increase or double the drops of essential oil in the formula as long as you are tolerant of them and they do not exacerbate your symptoms. Never apply essential oils without diluting first. The essential oils in this formula are serving as anti-fungal agents, lavender additionally soothes itchy skin conditions.


If you have rosemary, lavender, and thyme growing in your backyard or kitchen window, you can easily make them in to a herbal tea to use as a hair wash, or additionally infuse them in to olive oil as described in my article on “How to Make Rosemary Oil” and apply that to your head twice daily, allowing it to sit for at least 15 minutes. Topical herbal applications should never burn. If so, rinse immediately. Be careful to not get herbal medicines in your eyes.


NEVER use herbal medicines on your baby unless prescribed by their naturopathic pediatrician. Calendula cream and aloe vera, are most likely safe to use topically on babies, but be extremely cautious with newborns and always ask your pediatrician before treating. The best thing to do for cradle cap is to first wash the babies hair with a gentle baby shampoo, and then apply pure olive oil to the baby’s head. Use a fine comb to remove the flakes, and then rinse out the olive oil. Food allergies in the mother may be causing cradle cap. Reseed your babies gut flora with some probiotics such as bifidus or acidophilus, and try investigating food allergies if the problem is persistent. Breast feeding moms can consume biotin rich foods, as research has shown biotin to be beneficial.


Although topical treatments are helpful for reducing itchy symptoms, be sure to address the internal causes of seborrheic dermatitis and dandruff by reducing junk food in the diet, adding omega 3 oils, reseeding gut flora with the use of acidophilus, reducing stress, and addressing other underlying causes such as food allergies to wheat , dairy, or other foods. For more information on these things you can read my more comprehensive article on “Alternative Medicine for Seborrheic Dermatitis”. Also of benefit would be a chlorine shower filter as chlorine will exacerbate any itchy skin condition.

Thanks for stopping by my kitchen table to ask the question!

~Dr. Nicole Sundene

Naturopathic Physician


  1. Great informative article.

  2. Can this be done without the Lavender? I have a mild allergy to it.

  3. Yes, but the lavender is serving as an anti-fungal so you would need to use a different essential oil that is anti-fungal like thyme, tea tree, or rosemary in it’s place.

  4. Hi Dr. Nicole. I’ve been planning to buy all the ingredients for your itcy scalp recipe and I was wondering if i can use the Desert Essence Organic Lavender &Tea Tree Oil (both oils in one bottle) or is it better to buy it separately? If it’s okay, how many drops should I add into the mix? Also, do you have any suggestions which brands of essential oils I should get. Are Desert Essence, Now Foods, or Aura Cacia good enough? I want to purchase my essential oils in one brand.


  5. Dear Nicole,

    I’m very impressed by your article.

    I don’t want to use essential oils so would a hair rinse or spray with aloe vera juice or calendula tea plus rosemary tea do the trick?



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