Welcome back to my spotlight on Seb Derm. If you missed part 1 – Know your enemy – in which I talked about what Seb Derm is, you can read it here.
Today, I’m going to look at how you can use products and treatments to help manage your Seb Derm. I’ll focus on the scalp because that’s often the most distressing part of Seb Derm, but there’s a bit of info at the end about good natural body moisturisers for irritated skin.
Many of the sources of information about Seb Derm talk about how an imbalance of a particular yeast – malassezia – may be a contributing factor to outbreaks. This yeast is found naturally on the skin and grows, alongside other bacteria, in the sebum that is excreted by the sebaceous glands and makes up part of your skin’s protective barrier.
There might be something in this, the jury’s still out. But many medicated treatments are anti-fungal and focus on balancing or controlling growth of this particular yeast. If you visit your GP, you may well be prescribed medicated lotions or shampoos that contain one of the following active ingredients, all designed to tackle Seb Derm:
- Pyrithione zinc
- Salicylic acid
- Coal tar
Be aware that you might be able to buy some of these ingredients off-prescription and save yourself a bit of money. Pyrithione zinc is the active ingredient in Head & Shoulders and Coal tar and Salicylic acid can be found in Neutrogena scalp treatment shampoos.
Don’t despair if one doesn’t work. Another may well be your perfect fit. Similarly, you may find that a particular product won’t work for you forever. If that happens, try another active ingredient.
Now, as someone who strives to make natural choices in their skincare, these wouldn’t be my first choice of products. Sadly, I have yet to find a treatment shampoo that isn’t also packed with Sodium Lauryl Sulphate (SLS) – that well known skin irritant. Not good for skin that’s already damaged.
If you’re a green-queen don’t dismiss these treatments out of hand, though. The real key to managing my Seb Derm was in more holistic lifestyle choices (more on that next time). But getting occasional relief from medicated treatments bought me some time and headspace to sort out the bigger issues. After months of sustained flare-ups, I really needed that time.
Likewise, steroid treatments. Pretty much all inflammatory skin conditions will respond to steroid treatments. I have issues with their long-term use and would always advise that you explore other options for life-long management of chronic conditions but as a short, sharp fix they can be your best friend. I finally ‘caved’ and went on a course of steroid creams and scalp lotions after about 4 months of utter misery. Within 2-3 days my scalp was almost clear and I’d had my first night of unbroken sleep. I remember lying on the floor and crying with sheer relief. In the worst 6 months, I went on two or three 2-week courses of steroids to give my body a rest so I could try and figure out what was going wrong more generally.
I make no judgments in this series. I might gently nudge you towards more holistic long-term management but you need to make the right choices for you on how you get there. I did get temporary relief from these treatments (note: not a cure). I think I caused myself unnecessary angst by trying to completely avoid steroids and anti-fungal treatments but I personally choose to come off them as quickly as possible too. the solution, as in so many cases, is about balance.
There are more natural options out there, however, and these can form an important part of both your initial ‘treatment’ response and a longer-term care plan.
Neem oil is famously indicated for scalp conditions, including Seb Derm. It’s a vegetable oil extracted from the fruits and seeds of the neem tree. It smells preeeetty strong (I have yet to find one person who likes it!), but it has powerful antibacterial properties and an excellent history of balancing and healing the scalp.
Another good oil for your hair and scalp is coconut oil. Not only does it smell nicer, it’s also lighter, easily absorbed and can be used as a gentle moisturiser for your whole body.
You can use both neem and coconut oils as an intensive scalp mask. Simply warm the oils and massage them gently into the scalp for 5 minutes. Then leave them for as long as possible – anything up to an hour. It’s even worth sleeping in them if you can bear it (use a towel to protect your pillow though!). Then, when you’re ready, just shampoo out and condition as normal. Although it won’t help with the Seb Derm, it’s worth taking the coconut oil through the lengths of your hair as well. It’s a great moisturizing treatment and you’ll be left with soft, shiny hair. Having nice hair can really help boost your mood when your scalp’s a sorry mess.
If you have an interest in aromatherapy, you can add a few drops of essential oil for a turbo-charged treatment. Use a 2% dilution (that’s 6 drops of essential oil in 10ml of neem/coconut oil, 12 drops in 20ml, etc). Good oils to try are tea tree (Melaleuca alternafolia), Lavender (Lavandula latifolia), Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis), Patchouli (Pogostemon cablin), Cedarwood (Cedrus atlantica) and Eucalptus (Eucalyptus globulus). Remember – never apply neat (undiluted) essential oils directly to the skin.
Another natural remedy that’s had some success is rinsing with apple cider vinegar. It does smell a bit vinegary on application but it fades quickly.
It’s worth noting that if you go online you’ll find many ‘miracle’ testimonies waxing lyrical about how a once a week coconut oil treatment banished persistent Seb Derm for ever more or how apple cider vinegar cured dandruff in a week. If they work for you, that’s brilliant, but be realistic. None of the above natural or medicated treatments is a cure. At best we’re hoping for an alleviation of symptoms with regular use, so ensure that you have realistic expectations and aren’t plunged into the depths of despair when yet another remedy doesn’t work immediately. Chronic conditions can leave you desperate for a ‘holy grail’ and that in itself can be debilitating and unhelpful.
I’ll end with a list of stockists and products that I tried over about 18 months. Not all of them worked for me, but that doesn’t mean they won’t work for you. A successful treatment is something you’re comfortable using in both the short and long-term, be that for ethical, environmental or financial reasons, so think about what your priorities are when making your choice.
Stockists for neem/coconut oils:
- Neem – Pukka, Dr Hauschka, A.Vogel shampoo, Theraneem shampoo and conditioner
- Coconut – Quinessence, Viridian, Pukka
- Dr Hauschka Neem Lotion – A lighter, fresher smelling alternative to the Neem hair oil. It’s very liquid and can be massaged into the roots of the hair. Light and non-greasy, it’s perfect when you don’t want to have to wash your hair again after applying. This didn’t really clear up my problem but it soothed the skin enough for me to ease up on the scratching and its mild antibacterial properties probably stopped any raw areas from becoming nasty.
- Barefoot Botanicals conditioner – I didn’t really get on with this, despite loving the body products from the same range. You have to leave it on for 10 minutes, which I found just too time-consuming for regular use. It’s likely I didn’t notice any real effects because I never left it on long enough and just couldn’t stick with it. You might have more patience (and more success).
- A’kin tea tree shampoo and conditioner – Nice, light, fresh-smelling duo for daily washing without all the usual chemical nasties (and SLS). It’s not strictly a treatment for Seb Derm but it was nice to having something more natural to mix in with the harsher anti-fungal products I would use once a week or so. I couldn’t find an online stockist but I picked mine up in Waitrose.
Body lotions for easing the itch:
Dr Organic, Korres, Barefoot Botanicals, Lavera and Jason are all good brands to try for reasonably priced products with more natural ingredients lists. You can read more here.
Body washes that are gentle:
I love the following brands for gentle, pleasant smelling body washes that are free of SLS and other petrochemical nasties – Lavera, Organic Surge, Dr Bronner, Naked, Balance Me, Liz Earle and Faith In Nature. Apologies for not adding loads of links but I’ve rather lost the will to live with them and I’m sure you’re all perfectly capable of using Google!
Next time I’ll focus on a holistic approach to health and the most effective means to control chronic conditions like Seb Derm in the longer term.