Natural Treatment for Seborrheic Dermatitis, Cradle Cap, Dandruff, and Itchy Scalp

by in Cradle Cap, Dandruff, Kitchen Sink, Reader Questions, Seborrheic Dermatitis December 5, 2010

aloe.jpgAn itchy dry, flaky scalp is typically “seborrheic dermatitis” commonly referred to as dandruff in adults and “cradle cap” in babies. Most standard anti-fungal shampoos, topical steroids, and topical treatments such as selenium sulfide and pyrithione zinc typically only provide temporary relief because they are not addressing the root cause of the problem.
The fact that the body is out of balance must be addressed or the shampoo will simply not be enough. Although I do agree these shampoos are helpful for reducing symptoms while the actual cause is treated, they frankly are not the “be all end all”.
First of all seborrheic dermatitis is an inflammatory condition of the scalp that can manifest in the form of mild dandruff to dense, greasy scaling of the scalp. Mild cases of dandruff will typically resolve with the addition of fish oil, biotin and b-complex, zinc, and selenium, however more severe cases of seborrheic dermatitis will require further investigation.
The reason for this is that in babies the condition typically remits after 6-8 months, but in adults the problem is almost always chronic and will just tend to relapse and remit while it worsens over time. So let’s get this figured out now, shall we?
This condition is commonly correlated with a yeast, Pityrosporum ovale, but that yeast is predominantly everywhere right? It is not some random infectious disease like Ebola, it is simply a common thing in our environment, which gets me thinking…why doesn’t EVERYONE that is exposed to P. ovale have seborrheic dermatitis? The reason for that is that not everyone is pre-disposed to being susceptible to such a problem. There is a high familial correlation with this disease. Typically our diet, genetics, environment, lifestyle, and stress levels all contribute to causing an illness, and an illness just chooses to show up on the body somewhere to show us that we are out of balance. Whether we choose to listen to the message or ignore the message while suppressing it with shampoos and topicals or what not is up to us.
So what is out of balance? Most likely digestion and stress.
When I have worked with patients with very refractory cases of seborrheic dermatitis in the past they have all had food allergy components, especially to wheat, dairy, and citrus that needed to be addressed. For whatever reason imbalances in our gut always show up on the skin first. My guess surrounding this is that people are naturally pretty vain and will easily ignore a stomachache, but not a skin problem. The body is very wise when sending messages. Also since 70% of our immune systems surround our gut in the form of “Gut Associated Lymphatic Tissue” or GALT, any inflammatory condition will improve by simply going on a trial hypoallergenic diet for several weeks and then testing for food intolerances once the condition has cleared.
Be sure to start a whole foods diet, avoid McInflammation whenever possible, and get all the Kitchen Table Villains out as they are sure to needlessly add to the inflammatory fire. Of added interest, this problem is predominantly male which suggests a male hormone component or imbalance. Most hormones are easily brought back in to balance by improving sleep and cleaning up diet and stress.
I would recommend for anyone with an itchy skin problem to read my article on eczema, as in my mind they are all basically all the same thing and tend to resolve by using similar traditional nature cure means (all my dermatologist friends officially hate me now for saying that).
Of course seborrheic dermatitis in adults has been shown with good research to improve specifically from taking zinc daily (start with 15-20mg, but you can bump it up to 50mg daily, yet I would not do this long term as it will throw your other minerals out of balance), as well as selenium (150-200mcg), biotin (10mg), Folic acid (10mg), and B12 (1000mcg), but we really need to address the cause of the inflammation, or most people will have to be on these supplements long term.
For mothers of infants with cradle cap that are breastfeeding you can ensure that you are not deficient in these vitamins and minerals by taking a high quality prenatal vitamin at the full dose (don’t take mega doses of ANYTHING when you are breastfeeding unless prescribed by your doctor!!!). But ultimately I would investigate food allergies, as a food you are eating is most likely upsetting the baby. Do add cultured foods like yogurt in to your diet to improve your digestion.
Topically a 5% Tea Tree oil shampoo has been shown to be effective, but I would make my own conditioner instead and let it sit on the scalp. My rationale for this is that shampoos are really drying and the scalp is already dry and irritated. We want the medicine to sit on the scalp long enough to kill yeast. I would prepare a topical solution using aloe vera gel or borage oil and tea tree oil. Add about 20 drops of tea tree oil to a ten ounce bottle of aloe vera gel. Shake that up and apply it to your scalp daily for 15 minutes. Depending on your sensitivity, you can add more tea tree oil than that, however it should NOT ever feel like it is burning. Never apply any essential oils directly to your skin without diluting them in aloe or a carrier oil first as they are caustic and will burn you. If you ever experience burning, rinse it off immediately. Topically aloe vera gel and borage oil have also been shown to be soothing for this condition. For babies you can rub their head with olive oil and then comb all the flakes out.
Remember that if you discover you have food allergies it is not the end of the world, you simply eliminate the food for a period of time while the immune system forgets about it (typically three months for those blood cells to die), take probiotics daily to reseed healthy gut flora, adopt better stress management coping techniques, and then rotate the foods that were causing the inflammation back in moderately.
As a final note I would like to add that you should NOT ever take any new supplements without checking with your doctor first, and be sure that you have the correct diagnosis before attempting any home remedies or self treatments. Heaven forbid my advice ever does more harm than good.
Hope that helps! Please leave your questions in the comments of this article if you have any.
~Dr. Nicole Sundene

  1. And may I add a favorite of mine:
    Chlorine Shower filter.
    Chlorine is a big ol’ cause of itchy skin and dry scalps. Install one in your shower and in about 3 days, you’ll be thinking – why didn’t I do this years ago.
    Dr Ben

  2. Absolutely agree Dr. Ben! Thanks for that…where is the link to the product the readers need at I will add it in to the article. Thanks for the great reminder!
    People with asthma and ANY skin condition need a chlorine shower filter.

  3. Thank you. I’ve delt with this ridiculously mischievious and confusing condition for 36 years. It affected everything in my life including my self-esteem. It could never be figured out! Doctors in juneau, ak didn’t know crap (they still don’t!) and I was left with redness and feeling cruddy all the time (The discomfort is not only on the face, but as well as I just didn’t feel ok or “balanced” inside, either.)
    Thank you. Your thoughts are the most intelligent I’ve heard. Those shampoos are worthless! WHY DONT DOCTORS address the roots of problems. Quacks or $$ or both. Hmmmm…
    Anyways –
    I notice a few things with this disease:
    1. Relieving myself makes it almost immediately subside. Weird huh.
    2. Hydrocortisone works for about two weeks, then it’s not helpful whatsoever.
    3. Drink masssssssive water.
    4. Watch your food intake. Your alkaline vs acidic. Make sure you have foods that help your digestive do it’s thing. LIKE VEGETABLES.
    hahah -have we forgotten vegetables?
    Thanks again.

  4. How long do I need to follow your treatment plan before I should see results?
    What do you think of Jason’s tea tree oil shampoo? Is it safe for my eyebrows (I have severe eyebrow seb derm.)? I used it and it started burning– does that mean I am allergic to tea tree oil? I don’t know if it’s 5% or not because it doesn’t say on the label. HOw can I test to see if I am allergic before I actually use something?
    My diet is generally healthy although I will add supplements. I think the biggest cause is stress, and the second biggest cause is that it is winter. I haven’t yet found a way to control it so it is pretty bad right now.
    Sara’s last blog post..Japanese Prawn and Noodle Salad Recipe

  5. I know this is going to sound completely contradictive… but can Chlorine actually sometimes help S D inflammation??? I have been diagnosed with Seborrheic Dermatitis. Battling it for a year and wasn’t sure what is was until recent diagnosis.
    Twice, I noticed the symptoms improve greatly. First, about a year ago when on vacation… face and other areas of skin completely cleared. We were swimming every day. But then again recently when our local pool opened. Swam with the family for two days in a row and face and skin hadn’t felt so good in forever. Inflammation cleared up immediately.
    This caused me to wonder if it was the Chlorine that actually helped the S D symptoms. Could it have been killing off the problematic yeast/fungus on the skin?
    Any explanation?

  6. Nikita Villaroel July 6, 2009 at 4:21 pm Reply

    I would like natural cures for severe dermatitis on the skin.

  7. I have MS and ever since being diagnosed I’ve noticed strange things regarding my skin. I’ve never had allergies, although I have always had sensitive skin, but now I am on Xyzal and even needed a topical for hives/rash on my neck. Now I am suffering from blepharits but neither my eye doctor, neurologist or dermatologist think there is any connection. None of the rx shampoo has helped and the topical fo my scalp only helps relieve the itching. Any ideas?

  8. Can you leave the aloe and TTO on you scalp or do you need to wash it off? ie, if I put it on when I get out of the shower in the morning can I just leave it?

  9. This is directed toward MW. I also notice when I go swimming my rash clears up. But it only seems to clear up when I swim at outdoor pools rather than indoor pools. This makes me think its more about sunlight and less about chlorine, but who knows. Also whenever I go on vacation it also seems to clear up, probably because my stress disapears during that time : )…Anyway great article, I will try taking the vitamins listed and eating a bit healthier…and more water intake sounds like a good idea.

    • Interesting about the sunlight….I believe there is research correlating the two and will check in to that and write and article if so. It would make sense since the overgrowth of the yeast is typically the prob and yeast and fungi both love warm damp areas….so the bright light would be a shocker.

  10. w3ll i hope it will gonna work!
    i had read ya article ryt now…
    thanks Dr.Nicole

  11. thank you for your article . i have been suffering from SD for more than 20 years and now i have found out that the route of this desease is in food allergy.
    also i think that milk of magnesia is usefull in removing the scales.

  12. I appreciate your article addressing this very aggravating issue for people like me suffering from SD. I am currently trying to find these supplements online so I have question for you: In regards to the dosage amounts of the supplements you recommend (15-20mg of zinc, selenium (150-200mcg), biotin (10mg), Folic acid (10mg), and B12 (1000mcg) I’m finding it difficult to find Folic Acid in dosages more than 800mcg per tablet. This would mean taking about 12 tablets/day to get the 10 mg dose. Is this correct? I truly appreciate your response to this question and any recommendations on where I could find higher doses online.

  13. Nicole,
    Could you please tell me how you make your own conditioner with tee tree oil? I think I’m allergic to most shampoos & conditioners.
    Thank you for the article.

  14. Hi,
    I’ve been looking for something simple , a cream or lotion, easy to get, or a recipe I can make myself to put on my face.
    I think I have seborrheic dermatitis, its been happening several times to me and my scalp always have some minor problem
    Can somebody give my some advices for my face?
    it is really uncomfortable
    thank you

  15. I have been battling sb for about a year now and its worse than ever. I’ve tried a natural shampoo and an oil made of all kinds of natural oils i.e. tea tree oil , coconut oil, but I’m not sure if I’m allergic to them or what but I have a severe rash on my neck that started with the ketoconazole that the regular MDs gave me.
    I’m constipated all the time from having to take narcotics d/t severe chronic pain. Do you think that has anything do do with it? My diet is very good and I recently eliminated wheat and I don’t eat dairy. I’m at my wits end with this, I don’t sleep at night very well because of the discomfort. Can you please help?

  16. Many thanks with this approach necessary data.. I’m fortunate in addition to genetically wholesome locks.. it’s heavy rather than which gray however.. as well as We do not colour this possibly.. However I’d already been finding the actual tablets for that previous period with regard to my own acne breakouts situation.. and today after i halted this particular, I’ve appear to dropped 40% linked to my personal locks inside a 30 days..!!

  17. can i use aloe vera alone for the scalp without the borage or tea tree oil? do i use aloe vera oil or gel in this case? how do i test for aloe vera allergy? what do i use for seb derm on my eyebrows? thanks.

  18. we accustomed to believe often altering in the hair shampoo results in far more hairfall however ough stated each of us “should” change it released frequently

  19. First thing I’ve read that actually talks about finding the root of the problem instead of just using band-aids. This needs to be on the first page of google when searching seborrheic dermatitis instead of the 4th. I’ve been thinking it had something to do with my diet, and I am lactose intolerant. For that I just ordered some probiotics the other day. I’ve also thought that it had something to do with the water out of the shower, maybe a chlorine filter would help that. Been using Dr. Bronner’s Tea Tree oil shampoo for a while too, that doesn’t make any difference though, maybe with doing the other stuff it will help. Originally had this stuff on my face but now its just on my scalp and eyebrows.

  20. and so i concur which it’s vital in order to complete sports activities every day. I’d prefer to add a good additional tipp: possess a cup associated with tepid to warm water along with sweetie combined with clean ” lemon ” within it each morning daily – it will help within cleaning skin tone imperfections as well as places combined with it’s truly relaxing

  21. MY NATURAL AND partially ORGANIC SOLUTION (and initial failures)
    Teen onset of serious scalp dandruff [side note: in concert with a body ringworm infection (this is a fungus) which was removed appropriately with topical anti-fungal lotion] / Adult face onset (particularly top lip and brow) of Seborrheic Dermatitis or similar skin inflammation
    After trying various commercial products including medicines and failing I have decided to try alternatives.
    Treatment –
    Initially I tried using organic apple cider vinegar on half my face and the improvement was fast and noticeable so I began using this over my entire face with good effect. I apply it to my face with cotton wool after slightly diluting it. After a few months it seemed to stop being as effective and my skin inflammation returned almost as strong as before.
    At this point I tried rosehip oil as a night moisturiser and then tried Neal Yard’s “Wild Rose Beauty Balm”, which is organic rosehip oil with some other ingredients. No change, no effect, it’s just acting as a moisturiser. Both types of products are very expensive.
    Finally, after some research, I tried a multi-pronged attack using the following, once a day at least, immediately prior to sleep (some tea tree oil antiseptic lotions recommend 3 times a day application so I am guessing that would be ideal but who is going to manage that?):
    1. Newly purchased, ie fresh organic Apple cider vinegar (£1.80 for 500ml) (in case storage had lessened it’s effectiveness), diluted lightly, maybe between 1 in 3 to 1 in 6 (I am doing this by hand each time I use it so it’s a rough estimate). Applied with cotton wool and left on for circa 10 mins (although I have been leaving it on much longer on occasion I must admit) and wash off just rubbing some water on your face.
    2. 10% sulphur soap (natural mineral broad spectrum anti-microbial) (~£5 for 200g). Leave it on for 1-2 mins then wash off. IMMEDIATELY APPLY MOISTURISER afterwards.
    3. a couple of drops of tea tree oil (£3 for 10ml) mixed into about a third of a spoonful of organic virgin olive oil (£2 for 500ml at ASDA). Basically use enough so that you get that amount of tea tree oil (2-3 drops) spread over your whole face and your face is moisturised with the olive oil. I get a slight tingling on my skin at a concentration of tea tree oil even a little higher than this. [Olive oil may sound strange and I have never heard of olive oil used in this way before but my wife said that olive oil was used as a beauty product historically]. The olive oil is acting as a moisturiser and is suitable for my dry skin.
    Within 2 weeks I achieved impressive SUCCESS. The skin is no longer as red and rough to run a finger over. My skin feels “calm”/less irritated and less itchy\painful. I do still have some very small flakes of dandruff\dry skin flacks though at this stage. It has still been less than a month since I began this process though and I have only been doing it once a day.
    I was concerned about using strong apple cider vinegar and tea tree oil on my skin long term though and was wondering if anyone knows of any scientific papers on potential side effects.
    note: as a side note I have begun exercising more and eating a little better at the same time. I have seen online that too much sugar in your diet may encourage certain types of micro-organisms. I have also been having cooler showers which is one thing my dermatologist recommended.
    My family now has a susceptibility to this although I am not sure that is true of previous generations. I think that there is some chemical in the environment or products that helps to set it off. Mine began after a trip to China and then got worse after a second trip to China. I am putting this down primarily to pollution\chemicals that don’t widely exist elsewhere. I recommend avoiding using food and chemical products made in China.
    PS if it doesn’t give you the concentration of tea tree oil in a face wash or shampoo the concentration of tea tree oil may be too low to have sufficient effect. Also research suggests that tree tree oil performs best when left on the skin, ie not used as a face wash or shampoo only. Research suggests microbial resistance is possible at 0.5% but not at 5% tea tree oil. Research shows that a negative skin reaction to 100% tea tree oil occurs in 6% of people but that at lower levels the negative reaction is 0% so if you dilute it as I did you shouldn’t have a problem.
    PSS I would love to hear about any ones experience with flowers of sulphur (which is basically sulphur powder). I fear using it on my face as at 100% concentration I don’t want to get it in my eyes or breath it in regularly. Apparently flowers of sulphur is awesome for skin infections in non-human mammals, ie pets and livestock.

  22. I’ve had this my whole life to some degree but only until the past few years has it truly taken a toll on me. I would very rarely get a patch on my neck or jaw line but noticed it on my eyelids to the point of causing discomfort and pain. Suddenly the past few months have been terrible my entire face- eyebrows, ears and neck the worse. Stress seems to be the most noticed cause, it’s as if as soon as I start feeling anxious or stress my skin burns, swells, itches and then dealing with the healing process. ugg. Make-up has let me survive a little confidence&self-esteem I only wear it must I leave, I think it irritates it. I’m trying a number of different remedies, none being the miracle yet mainly trying to avoid stress, its not easy I then stress about stressing. Has anyone tried acupuncture? I’m thinking it may be worth a shot

  23. I have had a skin condition, only on my right hand, since I was 18 (now 60). When I was about 24 a doctor suggested I stop eating these foods one at a time – corn, all milk products, wheat and soy. I cut them all out and ate chicken, vegetables and rice. My condition drastically improved in just a week. I still get a slight skin reactions from some foods I’m not aware of but basically it is controllable by not eating dairy or wheat. I also use products that do not have any perfume in them-fragrance free lotions and shampoo. I just have to read the label on everything because sometimes products that say dairy free still have casine in them or something else like soy sauce made form wheat. Sometimes in restaurants the servers are not sure what is or is not a dairy product so you have to do a little bit of questioning so they reall know what you can’t eat. It’s doable, you just have to work at it.

  24. Thats very beautiful page. Natural treatment is very important.

  25. Hello Nicole,
    I keep hearing/reading that taking probiotics is good for S.B., but I am also lead to believe that a dairy free diet helps too and since probiotics come from dairy, I’m a little confused. I think that I may have an allergy to soya, not sure yet, but have cut it out of my diet to see what happens. I have been vegetarian for about 14yrs, but started to eat fish again, only to discover that fish may not be helping either!!!
    Thanks for your invaluable help

  26. I have recently been diagnosed with this SB on my face. Its on the sides of my nose underneath and I my noseeven feel like something is moving inside my nose. What can I put inside to stop the misery?

  27. I agree, shower filters help a lot, tea tree oil and coconut oil also.

  28. Hi
    I am suffering from the same problem, from what i tried so far Castor oil works wonders over night and feels good for few days..

  29. My husband, sister-in-law, son and daughter all have this skin condition. I can offer a few suggestions to help you feel more comfortable while working on fixing the source of the issue (diet, sunshine, yeast, etc):
    -Take Inner Garden probiotics daily (
    -Use a natural shampoo bar daily
    -Treat infected areas with jojoba oil at night (allow oil to stay on scalp while you sleep), shampoo in the morning
    -Frequently comb or brush hair
    -Burdock root tincture, tea, soap used on skin
    -Make lotion by melting 2 tbsp beeswax in 16 oz coconut oil over low heat, chill until firm, then scrap into blender and blend to desired consistency, add tea tree oil, or other EO if desired and blend briefly before pouring into a container (check out my Facebook to see a video)
    -Enjoy the sun & when possible, part hair to expose effected area to the rays
    I really hope this helps! Please feel free to contact me with questions, suggestions, etc. I’m pretty passionate about helping my family with this! 🙂
    .-= Kimberly´s last blog ..Peppermint Lip Gloss (Large) =-.

  30. Its really good to used a herbal treatment other than using products which are addressing more chemicals because it my not know by using those kind of products they might harm for us.suggesting this kind of matter is really very useful.

  31. Foods that can cause seborrheic dermatitis to flare up-
    Citrus (this gives me heartburn anyway)
    Cow’s milk
    Brewers yeast
    Bakers yeast
    Various nuts (almonds, cashews,etc..)
    .-= AskLukas´s last blog ..Seborrheic Dermatitis =-.

  32. Hi! Does this also work for rosacea? I have had rosacea for a long time now. I woukd do anything to get rid of it.

  33. I agree that food allergies can cause many skin problems. I have also combined tea tree oil with apple cider vinegar. A 50/50 mix of water and apple cider vinegar, with five drops of tea tree oil works great.

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