An 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’re not addressing the root cause of the problem.
The fact that the body is out of balance and THAT must be addressed or the shampoo will simply not be enough. While these shampoos can be 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 goes away 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?
A common yeast causes most dandruff
This condition is commonly linked to a yeast called Pityrosporum ovale. But here’s the thing, the P. ovale yeast is quite common and is already everywhere. It’s not some random infectious disease like Ebola, it’s simply a common thing in our environment. So the obvious, but often overlooked, question is, “Why doesn’t everyone who is exposed to P. ovale have seborrheic dermatitis?”
The reason is, not everyone is pre-disposed to being susceptible to such a problem. It often runs in families meaning if your parents or siblings get dandruff you are more likely to get it as well.
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’re out of balance. Whether we choose to listen to the message or ignore the message while suppressing it with shampoos and topicals is up to us.
Digestion issues and stress contribute to seborrheic dermatitis
So in the case of seborrheic dermatitis what is out of balance? Most likely digestion and stress levels.
When I’ve worked with patients with very stubborn cases of seborrheic dermatitis they all had one thing in common, food allergies. Most often the culprits were wheat, dairy, and citrus. For whatever reason imbalances in our gut almost always seem to show up on the skin first. My guess is that people are often just ignoring earlier stomachache symptoms. But skin problems, which are so visible, tend to finally send them running to see the doctor.
Since 70 percent of our immune system surrounds our gut in the form of “Gut Associated Lymphatic Tissue” or GALT, any inflammatory condition… this one included… will improve by simply going on a trial hypoallergenic diet for several weeks. And then testing for food intolerances can be done once the condition has cleared.
Be sure to start a whole foods diet, avoid fast food 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 that anyone with an itchy skin problem read my article on eczema, because the conditions are so similar and tend to resolve by using similar traditional natural cures (all my dermatologist friends officially hate me now for saying that).
Supplements can help improve symptoms
Research shows that Seborrheic dermatitis in adults can be improved from taking zinc daily. Start with 15-20 mg a day. If you don’t see a significant improvement you can bump it up to 50 mg daily, but don’t stay at the higher dose for the long term, as it will throw your other minerals out of balance.
Other helpful nutrients to try include…
- Selenium (150-200mcg),
- biotin (10mg),
- Folic acid (10mg),
- and B12 (1000mcg)
But the truth is 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’re breastfeeding unless prescribed by your doctor!). But ultimately I would investigate food allergies, as a food you’re eating is most likely upsetting the baby’s system.
Do add cultured foods like yogurt in to your diet to improve your digestion.
Tea tree oil to the rescue
Topically a 5 percent 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. Yet we want the medicine to sit on the scalp long enough to kill yeast. A conditioner will allow you to do that.
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.
Dr. Nicole Sundene
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