Eczema is a fairly well-known condition of the skin, but it’s actually a general form of the problem. Eczema on scalp (also known as seborrheic dermatitis) is a sub-type of the ailment whereby the eczema is concentrated on the scalp area.
Despite the name, however, the condition can also be present in other parts of the body, such as the nose, the upper back, buttocks, around the navel, and various skin folds. It usually occurs in areas where there are lots of sebaceous or oil-producing glands.
Why is it important to know the difference? The reason is that treating eczema and seborrheic dermatitis is markedly different.
Unfortunately, both conditions look the same with significant overlaps between the signs and symptoms. While eczema on the scalp only shows up in certain areas, eczema, in its general form, can have a more widespread affected area.
Good news, though! The condition is not contagious and occurs more in men than in women.
Mayo Clinic categorizes it as a long-term condition, which doesn’t really affect a person’s overall health. In chronic instances, however, it may become a source of embarrassment.
In a typical setting, seborrheic dermatitis is also called ‘dandruff’ in adults. When it occurs on infants, it’s called ‘cradle’s cap’.
Signs and Symptoms of Eczema on Scalp
The American Academy of Dermatology presents a comprehensive look on the signs and symptoms of eczema on scalp.
For Adults and Teens
- Scaly patches on the skin
- Reddish skin under the patches
- Moist or greasy skin due to an overabundance of oil production
- Scales flake off
- Yellow or white coloring of the scales
- Itchy skin or burning sensation
The areas where seborrheic dermatitis appears are also fairly limited. These include the scalp, ears, center of the face, upper chest, upper back, genitals, armpits, and eyebrows.
What about Babies?
For infants, the signs and symptoms are a little different. On the plus side, it is temporary for babies, which mean that with the right treatment, parents can quickly solve the problem.
Here are the symptoms for infants:
- Covers the entire scalp
- Greasy scale on the scalp
- Scalp can be yellow or brown
- The scale eventually starts to flake and can be rubbed off
Although it generally occurs on the scalp, seborrheic dermatitis for infants may also appear on the eyelids, nose and ears.
Causes of Eczema on Scalp
The exact cause of eczema on scalp is unknown, though there are definitely factors that can increase their risk. What is known, however, is that poor hygiene or an allergic reaction is NOT a definite cause of the problem.
However, anyone can suffer from eczema on scalp regardless of age, sex, or race. Other likely causes or risk factors of seborrheic dermatitis include, but are not limited to the following:
- Cold and dry weather
- Hormonal changes in the body
- Certain soaps, shampoo, and other harsh detergents
- Eating disorder
- Intake of certain medications, like lithium, interferon and psoralen
Medication conditions, like depression, HIV, AIDS and other health issues that weaken the immune system can also increase instances of eczema on scalp.
Having acne, eczema in general, and psoriasis can also increase the likelihood of the problem.
In fact, it’s perfectly possible to have psoriasis and seborrheic dermatitis at the same time!
General Eczema vs Seborrheic Dermatitis
Many signs and symptoms for seborrheic dermatitis are also true for eczema. There are some differences, though, that should help with the diagnosis.
To start off, eczema is ALWAYS itchy, but seborrheic dermatitis doesn’t have to be. Its occurrence is also limited to those parts that are particularly sweaty while eczema is more widespread.
How Do You Diagnose Seborrheic Dermatitis?
Due to the slight difference between eczema on scalp and eczema in general, you may be a bit confused when distinguishing one from the other.
This is why it’s usually a good idea to consult a dermatologist first - especially if the condition is chronic. Since seborrheic dermatitis doesn’t really have any negative effect on your health, feel free to ignore the issue.
For your own peace of mind, however, it’s best to diagnose the problem and have it treated to enjoy a flake-free head!
Diagnosis doesn’t require surgery and involves a simple inspection on the part of the doctor. They may also take a good look at your medical history to find out if you’re at risk of seborrheic dermatitis.
Dermatologists are better at finding those small differences between skin conditions, so they can give an accurate treatment for the problem. Your doctor will inform you if they think further tests are necessary to eliminate underlying causes of the problem.
How can you Treat Eczema on Scalp?
Fortunately, there are several ways to treat eczema on the scalp depending on its cause. Here are some tips:
Have you been sad and tired lately? Are you having problems with sleep?
Depression and stress can trigger seborrheic dermatitis, but fortunately, you can alleviate them through natural means. Start off by doing activities that help you relieve stress, like going to the park, playing with dogs, or getting a full body massage.
Changing Soap or Shampoo
You’ll find that many shampoos today market themselves as ‘anti-dandruff’, which essentially means they can help stop and prevent seborrheic dermatitis. These shampoos have a cooling effect on the scalp, thereby countering the dryness of the weather.
If your dandruff started during summer or if you recently changed you shampoo brand – it’s probably time to switch into something specifically for dandruff.
Look for any of the following active ingredients proven to help with dandruff:
- Coal tar
- Salicylic acid
- Zinc pyrithione
- Selenium sulfide
These are given out when the condition is chronic. This happens when the eczema results to inflammation of the skin that’s very thick and highly itchy.
This is something the doctor recommends and not one you can purchase over the counter.
Coconut Essential Oils
This is something you can directly apply to the scalp at least twice a day to hydrate the skin underneath. Massage it to stimulate blood flow, thereby stimulating the skin to fight off the condition.
Since dandruff often occurs during dry weather, introducing essential oils helps bring in moisture and lock it in for a healthier scalp.
You may also resort to oral medications if seborrheic dermatitis proves to be incredibly stubborn. Take oral medications only under advice of a doctor to make sure that it doesn’t interfere with your health.
Note that seborrheic dermatitis treatment should be different for infants because their skin is more sensitive. Use only natural or a doctor-prescribed treatment if the cradle cap doesn’t go away within a period of months.
Usually though, you can treat the problem by gently washing the baby’s scalp using a mild baby-shampoo, according to MayoClinic. If you notice any other issues, consult your pediatrician quickly!
Of course, these are just some of the treatments currently being used for seborrheic dermatitis. Your first line of defense is to identify the cause of the problem then simply stop it.For example, drinking too much alcohol can lead to seborrheic dermatitis so avoiding liquor should be an excellent start.
Switching shampoo and hydrating yourself during summer should also produce positive results.
Natural vs Over-the-Counter vs Prescription Treatments
How do you choose which treatment to take?
When choosing, it’s best to consider the severity of your seborrheic dermatitis. For those who only get seborrheic dermatitis every now and again, opting for the natural method might be best.
Natural solutions have the least chance of interfering with your health. Natural methods include the use of essential oils, eating foods rich in antioxidants to help boost the immune system, and changing your diet for healthier fares.
Over the counter treatment options include the use of drugs, topical creams, ointments, shampoo, and soap to help with dandruff. These don’t require doctor prescription, but may have an impact on other aspects of your body.
Ideally, use natural methods first and observe how seborrheic dermatitis is reacting to this change in your routine. Give yourself around 2 weeks to see any difference.
If nothing happens, then you can opt for an over-the-counter treatment method for another two weeks.
You should only resort to prescription treatments if the dandruff proves to be too much and too tough to handle. If the condition affects the quality of your life, seeking the help of a dermatologist is best.
Prescription treatments are obviously stronger and come with many risks. A good dermatologist, however, can provide you with a medication, which perfectly suits your situation.
Patience and Long-term Management
Remember that it would be impossible for you to cure seborrheic dermatitis just one time.
The problem actually comes and goes, which is why you need to treat it each time it starts to reappear. The beauty of this is that once you’ve nailed the treatment that works for you, it’s not so hard to cut short all the other instances of the eczema on scalp.
Just practice patience and persistency in applying treatment on the problematic area. Good luck!