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Though seborrheic dermatitis is an inflammatory condition that most commonly presents on the scalp, its can affect other areas of your body, such as your ears, eyebrows, eyelids, chest, back, armpits, groin area, and the center of your face, board-certified dermatologist Dr. Hadley King tells Elite Daily. Seborrheic dermatitis can’t be cured, Dr. King says, but the redness, scaling, and itching can be managed with targeted cleansers and medicated over-the-counter shampoos. She says the best face washes for seborrheic dermatitis contain sulfur, salicylic acid, or tea tree oil, and she also suggests pairing your cleanser with an anti-dandruff shampoo that contains ingredients like selenium sulfide, pyrithione zinc, salicylic acid, ketoconazole, coal tar or tea tree oil, which not only helps if you experience seborrheic dermatitis on your scalp, but can also benefit your skin elsewhere. “A yeast found on the scalp named Malassezia can contribute to the inflammatory response in seborrhea, so some of the [anti-dandruff] ingredients have anti-fungal properties to decrease the Malassezia and thereby decrease the inflammatory response,” Dr. King explains. Don’t apply these medicated shampoos directly to your face, as that can cause irritation, but if you use the shampoo as directed on your hair and then rinse, “the lather will run over the face and other affected areas,” and help treat your seborrheic dermatitis, says Dr. King
To see the best cleansers for seborrheic dermatitis — as well as a couple of shampoos and soaps — scroll on. And if at-home treatments aren’t helping, speak with your doctor to discuss other possible solutions.
1. Doctor’s Pick
Dr. King recommends Kate Somerville EradiKate Daily Foaming Cleanser, which contains 3% sulfur to help to calm inflammation, along with skin-soothing ingredients like honey, rice bran extract, and oat extract. The whipped, lightweight cleanser also helps reduce excess oil production and clear out congested pores, and though it’s pricey, a little goes a long way, so it’s a worthwhile splurge.
2. Best Salicylic Acid Face Wash
For something less expensive (and French), try La Roche-Posay’s oil- and fragrance-free Effaclar cleanser. Its hero ingredient is salicylic acid, which Dr. King says offers exfoliating benefits for our skin (on our scalps, SA’s main benefit is that it helps to reduce scaling). This is an effective cleanser to soak up oil and unclog pores as well, so it’s great for people dealing with acne and blackheads in addition to seborrheic dermatitis.
3. Best Tea Tree Face Wash
The Body Shop’s Tea Tree Skin Clearing Facial Wash is a refreshing cleanser that, like the two other products above, can help with excess oil, breakouts, and the appearance of seborrheic dermatitis. In this case, though, the brand uses fair-trade tea tree oil from Kenya to get the job done, so it’s a bit gentler than the other, medicated cleansers on this list. Tea tree has has antibacterial, antifungal, and anti-inflammatory properties, explains Dr. King, which is why it’s such a popular way to treat seborrheic dermatitis and, more generally, effectively cleanse skin.
4. Best Bar Soap
This no-frills bar soap is made with 2% pyrithione zinc, an ingredient that’s commonly used in anti-dandruff products thanks to its antimicrobial and antifungal properties, as well as its ability to help with inflammation and itching, Dr. King says. The fragrance-free soap lathers up well, and can be used on your scalp and skin (both face and body) to treat seborrheic dermatitis and other common skin concerns like acne or cradle cap (in infants). If you find it drying — which some users do — work your way up to more frequent use. And moisturizers can be helpful for treating seborrheic dermatitis, so you should use one after cleansing your face to keep your skin barrier strong.
5. Best For Beards
Nizoral Anti-Dandruff Shampoo is made with ketoconazole, which Dr. King says is an anti-fungal that inhibits fungus growth and has mild anti-inflammatory properties. Seborrheic dermatitis can be worse under mustaches and beards, so if that’s something you’re dealing with, try using a ketoconazole shampoo there daily. Once your seborrheic dermatitis symptoms are reduced, you can reduce how often you use the medicated shampoo on your beard.
6. Best Coal Tar Shampoo
Another effective anti-dandruff ingredient is coal tar, says Dr. King, which aims to suppress fungus, decrease inflammation, and help reduce excess sebum production. If you haven’t had luck with ketoconazole (or have had luck with coal tar in the past), Neutrogena T/Gel Therapeutic Shampoo is the way to go. This is a popular pick for anyone with dandruff and seborrheic dermatitis, and it’s suggested that you use it twice per week for best results.
Coal tar can stain your hair, skin, nails, and clothing, and can make your skin more sensitive to the sun — two important things to be aware of when you’re using it — so be sure to rinse it off thoroughly and apply sunscreen daily.
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Topical ointments can be helpful at alleviating symptoms of seborrheic dermatitis, says Dr. King. Along with your face wash, she also recommends “trying over-the-counter Clotrimazole Cream [such as Lotrimin AF Cream, which contains 1% clotrimazole] twice daily, which has antifungal properties, or OTC hydrocortisone cream can also be tried twice daily for a week.”
Hadley King, MD, board-certified dermatologist and Clinical Instructor of Dermatology at Weill Cornell Medical Center