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Help, I Have an Itchy Scalp! Living With Seborrheic Dermatitis

Updated on May 21, 2017
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I suffer from a moderate case of seborrheic dermatitis, or severe dandruff, in layman's terms. This is what I've learned about treatment.


Searching for a Cure for Itchy Scalp

Anyone with a head of hair has likely been victim to dandruff at some point in his or her lifetime. The severity of dandruff may vary, however, from a slight sprinkling of snow on the shoulders to a full-blown volcanic eruption of bumps, lumps, and, dare I say it, humps all over your helpless body.

Though I am nowhere in the vicinity of the aforementioned volcanic scenario, I suffer from a moderate case of what doctors call seborrheic dermatitis—or severe dandruff, in layman's terms. The severity of my seborrheic dermatitis symptoms is variable. Sometimes I can go days without attacking those itchy lumps on my scalp. At other times, though, you could easily mistake me for a flee-ridden monkey. Humid or cold weather, my monthly cycle, and stress are all factors that play into the intensity of this irritating and often embarrassing condition. Sadly, it is also a condition that never goes away—at least not permanently.

In this article, it is my desire to share with you my personal experience with seborrheic dermatitis and how I deal with it on a day-to-day basis. Hopefully, my experiences will help you in finding the treatment most suitable for you and your skin type.

Courtesy of ecmorgan on Flickr
Courtesy of ecmorgan on Flickr

Why is my scalp itchy?

The cause of an itchy scalp may not always be seborrheic dermatitis, though it is by far the most common cause. Many who complain of an itchy scalp with bumps may have had an allergic reaction to a specific hair product such as a shampoo or conditioner. This itchiness can worsen if a secondary infection occurs due to constant scratching. Others may have a parasitic infestation, the most common being lice, or a fungal infection such as ringworm. Scalp psoriasis, which is often mistaken for seborrheic dermatitis for its similarity to the disorder, is a less common cause, as are discoid lupus, hot comb alopecia, folliculitis, or hypothyroidism. Finally, there are a handful of banal causes such as sunburn and excessive washing of the hair that cause unpleasant itchiness.

To be more certain about the precise nature and cause of your condition, it is always best to consult with your doctor or dermatologist before embarking on any kind of treatment.

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My Battle with Seborrheic Dermatitis

I will never forget the day I went to the cosmetics counter of a department store with three of my friends to measure the healthiness of my facial skin. The beautician used a new-fangled machine to take the measurements and determine which skin care regime we should use. Friend number one had perfect skin and did not need any sort of cream. Friend number two had worse skin than friend number one, but still got off with a mere $10 purchase. Friend number three needed a set of cremes. And then came my turn.

The beautician almost keeled over as she looked at the results. "You have the worst skin I've seen in a long time!" she cried. You could almost hear my self-esteem hit the floor. Ever since I was a teenager, I have always had very poor and sensitive skin. From the age of 12-21, you could barely see my face for acne, and for the past ten years, I have suffered from periodic bouts of seborrheic dermatitis. The latter condition, though far from life threatening, can be debilitating on a day-to-day basis. I often wake up with the excruciating need to scratch my scalp, a sensation that will not pass until I shower. I feel embarrassed wearing dark colours for fear that flakes will show up on my clothes. My hair becomes greasy within the matter of a day, meaning that I have to wash it far more frequently than I should. Some days are worse than others, but it has been quite some time since I have had a scalp completely clear of scabs. Hopefully, one day scientists will come up with a permanent solution for us pitiful sufferers!

What are the causes?

Seborrheic dermatitis is a skin condition caused by excessive oil on the skin and yeast overgrowth. The yeast responsible goes by the name malessizia yeast. Research indicates that seborrheic dermatitis may be genetic, and is most common overweight, acne-ridden individuals. Other factors that contribute to this condition include weather extremes, stress, fatigue, infrequent hair-washing, use of hair products that irritate the scalp, and of course, scratching. The lack of biotin and vitamins B6 and B2 may also play a role. It may also appear more frequently in HIV+ individuals, and those who have suffered from a stroke or have Parkinson's Disease.

What are the symptoms? (besides itchiness, of course)

If you have seborrheic dermatitis, rest assured that your body will be the first to tell you. Here is a list of common symptoms which will indicate whether you have this condition.

  1. Itchy lumps and scabs on the scalp characterized by greasy yellow or white scales.
  2. Red rashes on any part of your face with hair growth, such as your scalp, eyebrows, beard or moustache.
  3. Excessive white or yellow dandruff flakes.
  4. Bleeding of sores if you scratch too much.
  5. Signs of greasy yellow scales and red rashes on other oil rich parts of your body such as your armpits, groin, chest or male scrotum.

How common is seborrheic dermatitis?

Very common, especially in babies under 3 months and adults between 30-60 years of age.

What are the treatments?

As I mentioned before, seborrheic dermatitis is a chronic condition that can never be completely cured. As such, we are left with nothing but to search for the best treatments in the hopes of reducing discomfort and itchiness.

The most accessible and effective treatment is the over-the-counter medicated shampoo. It is important to ask for a shampoo that contains one of the following active ingredients:

  • zinc
  • salicylic acid
  • coal tar
  • resorcin
  • ketoconazole
  • selenium

My personal favourite is a ketoconazole-based anti-fungal brand called Nizoral, but there are a number of worthy brands out there to try.

Other options include topical creams, topical steroids, topical cortisone, or antihistamines. The medications you choose and the products with which you combine them depend on the severity of your symptoms and the resistance of your skin to treatment. To see a full explanation of the various treatment options available, please visit the seborrhoeic dermatitis Wikipedia page.

Review of Nizoral Shampoo for Itchy Scalp: My Personal Favourite

When I first came down with a serious bout of itchy scalp caused by seborrheic dermatitis, I headed down to my local pharmacy to seek advice. The medicated shampoo they recommended to me was Nizoral, an anti-fungal shampoo based on the active ingredient ketoconazole. Ketoconazole, as I later discovered, is one of the key ingredients used in fighting yeast infections of the skin.

The instructions recommend that this shampoo be used two times a week for no more than four weeks. Continued use of your normal shampoo between treatments is also recommended. After using this shampoo for just under two weeks, I soon began to notice a dramatic decrease in itchiness, and thus, a diminished desire to scratch. After two weeks, all but a couple of the scabs that had once occupied my scalp had healed.

My state of non-scabbiness lasted for a good six months after I finished the treatment, and even when I experience a relapse, the shampoo remains just as effective in healing the lumps and bumps that pop up. Overall, I am extremely satisfied with this anti-fungal shampoo for itchy scalps. If you are unsure about which shampoo to choose, Nizoral is more than a safe bet.


Since I am no doctor, I used a number of helpful articles to compile information about seborrheic dermatitis in the creation of this page. Below you will find the best of the best.

Welcome to our Guestbook! - What has your experience been with seborrheic dermatitis?

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      Bulga 4 months ago

      Thanks so much Heather! Sharing is caring! :)

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      oiloflife 5 years ago

      Very nice lens! You gave a lot of good information here that should help everyone. Thanks for sharing!