Seborrheic dermatitis (SD), also called seborrheic eczema or dandruff, is an inflammatory skin disease. It most often affects the scalp and causes scaly, red patches to appear. These patches may also appear on the face and upper body. These are areas with many sebaceous glands, which produce oil.

SD is not contagious. Instead, it’s the result of an allergy or an autoimmune reaction. Seborrheic dermatitis is considered chronic. That means it can be controlled with treatment, but not fully cured.

Seborrheic dermatitis often requires several rounds of treatment to get rid of symptoms. Conventional treatments are effective, but at-home remedies can limit your skin’s exposure to strong chemicals. When paired with conventional treatment methods, natural remedies can help relieve SD more quickly and with fewer side effects.

Psoriasis vs. seborrheic dermatitis: What’s the difference? »

Seborrheic dermatitis can be caused or triggered by different things depending on your skin type and sensitivities. So, there’s no catch-all alternative treatment. You can speak to your dermatologist about which one would be the best for you to try.

Fish oil

Fish oil supplements can help suppress flare-ups of dermatitis triggered by allergies. Fish oil has other nutritional qualities, as well. It’s recommended for overall immune and cardiovascular health because of its omega-3 fatty acids.

Aloe vera

Aloe vera is a plant with anti-inflammatory properties. Research has shown that its extract is effective in treating seborrheic dermatitis. Supplements containing aloe vera gel or extracts can help suppress flare-ups of SD. They can also lessen the severity of flare-ups that do happen.


Probiotics are sometimes recommended to treat different kinds of dermatitis, especially in children. But there is little research to link probiotics to effective results for SD. Still, probiotics can promote a healthier digestive system. This can decrease inflammatory issues throughout your body.

Essential oils are growing more popular as a topical treatment for skin conditions. For seborrheic dermatitis, several oils can help treat existing flare-ups.

Tea tree oil

Tea tree oil has been studied for several skin conditions. Its antibacterial, antifungal, and anti-inflammatory benefits make it an ideal treatment for seborrheic dermatitis.

Tea tree oil is quite strong. Before you apply it to the scalp, you have to dilute it with a carrier oil, such as coconut oil or olive oil. Try using eight to twelve drops of tea tree oil mixed with carrier oil or water on your seborrheic dermatitis. This treatment can reduce itching and promote healing of scaly patches of skin on your scalp.

Other essential oils

Evening primrose oil, black currant seed oil, and borage oil may all contain properties that help reduce SD flare-ups. Mix any of these oils with a carrier oil and apply it to the site of your flare-up. This can reduce itching and redness. Coconut oil is probably the best carrier oil to mix with these oils. Its consistency makes it easier to apply. What’s more, coconut oil has analgesic and antibacterial properties of its own.

Learn more: 5 effective dandruff remedies »

Apple cider vinegar

An apple cider vinegar soak will loosen the scales on your scalp. It may also lessen inflammation in the area of your flare-up. To use this treatment, wash your hair with shampoo first. Then apply a diluted solution of apple cider vinegar to the area. Let the vinegar and water sit on your scalp for a few minutes before rinsing it off. Be sure to rinse well.

Olive oil

Another option for at-home treatment is to coat your scalp with olive oil. Leave the oil on for about an hour. Then, use a brush to remove scales from your scalp. Brush your scalp thoroughly, then wash and shampoo your hair as usual.

Seborrheic dermatitis is not directly linked to any dietary habits. But that doesn’t mean your diet has no effect on your flare-ups. Eat to support your immune system and focus on foods that have anti-inflammatory properties. You may find that your symptoms decrease.

To fight inflammation, eat a diet that includes:

  • plenty of green, leafy vegetables
  • tomatoes
  • olive oil
  • fruits that contain antioxidants, such as cherries, strawberries, and blueberries
  • foods that are high in vitamin C, such as citrus and bell peppers
  • almonds
  • sweet potatoes
  • foods with plenty of vitamin E, like wheat germ and avocados

Seborrheic dermatitis isn’t life-threatening, but it is chronic, and it can become quite uncomfortable. At times, you may find the scaling, itching, and redness distracting, especially if it happens on your face or upper body.

See your doctor to talk about your symptoms and make sure that you are diagnosed correctly. If you’ve tried self-treating your SD without success, it’s possible that you need a different diagnosis.

See your doctor if your flare-ups become a constant presence in your life, or if you also have other symptoms. Your primary care physician will most likely refer you to a dermatologist. This skin doctor may want to run some tests and talk to you about other treatments.

Topical treatments are the most commonly recommended solution for seborrheic dermatitis outbreaks. These include creams and shampoos that contain corticosteroids or hydrocortisone. But these methods of treatment can cause thinning of your skin over time. So, they can only be used for a few weeks. Supplementing these treatments with an alternative or natural treatment can help decrease side effects over the long term.

Antibacterial gels are prescribed to certain people whose SD is triggered by bacteria on the scalp. Metronidazole is the most common active ingredient in these gels. Antifungal shampoos and creams are also sometimes suggested.

Some doctors use light therapy to treat seborrheic dermatitis. For this treatment, the doctor exposes the affected area of your scalp or skin to ultraviolet light. It helps soothe the skin and reduce itching and redness.

Although it’s unclear what causes seborrheic dermatitis, there are some triggers that most people with the condition seem to have in common. Stress can aggravate flare-ups for many skin conditions, and SD is no exception. Try to be mindful of what triggers you in particular.

It’s possible that your flare-ups are connected to an allergic reaction, so try to document if there is anything unusual or new to your environment when a flare-up happens.

To keep from triggering a flare-up, avoid wearing wool caps and sweaters. Instead, opt for fabrics like cotton and silk.

A weakened immune system can also contribute to your symptoms’ severity. Take care of yourself and make sure to eat a diet rich in vitamins E, C, and K.

Dandruff: What your itchy scalp is trying to tell you »

The outlook for people looking to manage their seborrheic dermatitis gets better and better as research uncovers new holistic treatment methods.

Seborrheic dermatitis can be controlled by certain at-home treatments and topical creams. With the help of your dermatologist, you can find a treatment that works for you. A variety of treatment methods are available to help you avoid possible long-term side effects of prescription and over-the-counter creams. Even with treatment, though, you can expect to have a flare-up or two every once in a while.