Seborrheic dermatitis, also known as dandruff, is a common flaky, itchy skin condition that affects people of all ages.
It’s most often found on your scalp, but it can also develop on other areas of the body, which includes your ears and face.
Despite the prevalence of dandruff, this skin condition can be uncomfortable.
The good news is that once you’ve identified it, facial dandruff can be treated at home. More stubborn cases may also be treated by a dermatologist.
Learn how both treatments and lifestyle changes can work together to keep facial dandruff at bay.
Dandruff itself is caused by a naturally occurring skin fungus called Malassezia globosa.
These microbes play a role in breaking down sebaceous gland oils (sebum) on the surface of your skin. The microbes then leave behind a substance called oleic acid.
M. globosa doesn’t always cause dandruff, though.
Everyone has these microbes on their skin, but not everyone will develop dandruff. The process may lead to facial dandruff due to the following reasons.
Larger pores on your face could lead to larger amounts of sebum and subsequent risk for seborrheic dermatitis. Oily facial dandruff often coincides with scalp seborrheic dermatitis.
It’s also possible for dandruff to develop in dry skin.
When your skin is extremely dry, your sebaceous glands automatically go into overdrive to help make up for lost oil. The resulting excess sebum combined with dry skin flakes can lead to dandruff.
Sensitivity to oleic acid
Some people are sensitive to this substance left behind by M. globosa microbes. Flakiness and irritation may occur as a result.
Increased skin cell turnover
If your skin cells regenerate faster than normal (more than once a month), you could have more dead skin cells on your face. When combined with sebum, these dead skin cells can create dandruff.
Unlike the occasional dry skin flakes, seborrheic dermatitis tends to have a thicker, yellowish appearance. It can look crusty and become red if you scratch or pick at it. Facial dandruff also tends to be itchy.
Dandruff may appear in patches on the face. This is similar to dandruff on the scalp or eczema rashes on your body.
You may be at a higher risk of developing facial seborrheic dermatitis if you:
- are male
- have sensitive and/or oily skin
- have extremely dry skin
- have depression
- have certain neurological conditions, such as Parkinson’s disease
- have a weakened immune system due to cancer, HIV, or AIDS
- don’t wash your face every day
- don’t exfoliate regularly
- have eczema or another inflammatory skin condition
- live in an extremely dry climate
- live in a humid climate
Certain home remedies may reduce microbes on the face while also naturally exfoliating dead skin cells.
Consider talking to a healthcare provider about the following possibilities:
- apple cider vinegar (dilute with water first using a 1:2 ratio, which means 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar mixed with 2 tablespoons water)
- tea tree oil (dilute with a carrier oil)
- aloe vera gel
- coconut oil (may be especially helpful for drier skin types)
It’s important to conduct a patch test at least 48 hours beforehand. Try it out in a less visible area, such as the inside of your elbow.
You may consider trying the following over-the-counter (OTC) products:
- salicylic acid, which can be used as a toner to remove excess oil and dead skin cells
- hydrocortisone cream, which can only be used for a few days at a time
- anti-dandruff shampoo, which you can consider using in the shower as a face wash
- sulfur-based ointments and creams
For more stubborn facial dandruff, your healthcare provider may prescribe a stronger medicated cream to help tame M. globosa and manage excess oils. Options may include:
- prescription-strength antifungal cream
- oral antifungal medication
- temporary use of prescription hydrocortisone cream
- corticosteroid (temporary use only)
While some people may be more prone to seborrheic dermatitis, certain skin care habits can go a long way in preventing facial dandruff.
Dandruff itself isn’t caused by poor hygiene, but a skin care regimen that focuses on removing dirt and debris while also balancing out oil may be helpful.
Some key skin care habits include:
- Washing your face twice a day. Don’t skip washes just because your skin is dry. You need to find a cleanser that’s tailored to your skin type instead.
- Following up with a moisturizer after cleansing. You may need a thicker, emollient cream as a moisturizer if you have dry skin. Oily skin still needs hydration but stick with light gel-based formulas instead.
- Exfoliate once or twice a week. This can involve a chemical exfoliating product, or a physical tool, such as a washcloth. Exfoliating helps remove excess dead skin cells before they start to build up on your face.
Regular exercise, stress management, and following an anti-inflammatory diet are other ways you may be able to help prevent facial dandruff. These work best in conjunction with skin care.
Facial dandruff can be frustrating, but this common skin condition is treatable.
Good skin care habits are at the foundation of keeping dandruff at bay, but sometimes this isn’t enough. This is especially true if you have certain risk factors that increase your chances of developing seborrheic dermatitis.
Home remedies and OTC dandruff treatments are a good place to start if your lifestyle habits don’t reverse facial dandruff.
A dermatologist can also help recommend specific OTC or prescription treatments for seborrheic dermatitis.
It’s always a good idea to see a healthcare provider if your facial dandruff doesn’t improve or if it gets worse despite treatment.