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Treating Dandruff and Seborrheic Dermatitis (Hair Care)
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Treating Dandruff and Seborrheic Dermatitis

Richard Thomas, MD, FRCPC

Pityriases capitis is the medical name for dandruff, and is a condition where skin flakes and white scales become excessive, and causes itchiness and irritation. Yeast in the skin, and oil gland secretions combine to produce this effect. This is a natural process of shedding dead skin, but this can become overactive. When the yeast produces fatty acid, it can cause irritation and itchiness. Dandruff is extremely common, but can be an embarrassing condition for many, due to visible shedding on surfaces as well as clothing, and habitual scratching. Read another article on dandruff here:

The most common treatment for dandruff can be found at a local pharmacy without a prescription. Anti-yeast shampoos will often contain salicylic acid, coal tar, and antifungal solutions. Many of these shampoos have become more pleasant than in the past to use, and are far more effective due to recent developments in zinc pyrithione shampoos. These shampoos should be used daily until the condition is controlled, and then applied one to three times as necessary.

Some effective dandruff shampoos:

  • Head & Shoulders (antifungal)
  • Nizoral (antifungal)
  • Selsun (antifungal)
  • Sebcur (salicylic acid)
  • T-Gel (coal tar)

If your dandruff is severe, you may notice rashes in the following areas:

  • Between the eyebrows
  • Inside and around the ears
  • On the sides of the nose
  • On the back and chest
  • On the under armpits or breasts

Seborrheic dermatitis is a skin condition that causes red, itchy, and often flaky skin on the scalp, or the face areas. Neurological conditions from Parkinsonism, HIV-AIDS, or the use of antipsychotic drugs can all increase the risk of or aggravate seborrheic dermatitis.

Anti-yeast shampoos can treat seborrheic dermatitis. Applying the shampoo on the scalp, face, and chest for a minute, and then washing it off is all that is required. If this does not improve your condition after several weeks of trial, you may wish to consult a doctor for a prescription medicine. Some other treatments are listed below:

  • Hydrocortisone cream
  • Ketoconazole cream or pill
  • Lithium succinate ointment with 15% propylene glycol in water
  • Zinc pyrithione shampoo

For severe or persistent cases, the following may be prescribed:

  • Betamethasone valerate solutions (Betnovate)
  • Clobetasone shampoo (Clobex)
  • Flucinonide gels
  • Pimecrolimus cream (Elidel)
  • Tactrolimus ointment (Protipic)

If your seborrheic dermatitis does not heal, see your physician for a proper diagnosis. Seborrheic dermatitis can often be confused with other skin conditions like scalp psoriasis, atopic dermatitis, tinea capitis, facial rosacea, intertrigo, or erythrasma.

Similarly for dandruff, if it is severe or difficult to control with over the counter anti-dandruff shampoos, see your doctor for a proper diagnosis and treatment. For more general tips on skincare, visit


dandruff,   hair care,   seborrheic dermatitis,