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Greasy, Waxy Hair With Seborrheic Dermatitis: 5 Ways To Manage It

Medically reviewed by Raj Chovatiya, MD, PhD, MSCI
Written by Suzanne Mooney
Posted on March 1, 2024

  • To best manage hair issues from seborrheic dermatitis, make sure to first get an accurate diagnosis from a dermatologist.
  • Experiment to find what works for your scalp and hair.
  • Connect with others with seborrheic dermatitis to learn what works for them.

When styling your hair for work, a first date, or dinner with friends, the last thing you want to see on your scalp is excess oil, scaly patches, or a flaky crust caused by seborrheic dermatitis. While this common skin condition is unlikely to cause severe physical symptoms, it can cause emotional distress.

“I’m always so embarrassed to go out in public, especially when I’m wearing black,” said one MySebDermTeam member. Another said, “I have seborrheic dermatitis all over my scalp. It’s so embarrassing.”

Fortunately, there are effective ways to manage greasy, waxy hair with seborrheic dermatitis. What works for some may not work for everyone, so finding the best strategy could take time and patience. Talk to your health care provider before using at-home remedies for seborrheic dermatitis or other skin conditions to reduce your chances of causing an allergic reaction or worsening your symptoms.

1. Talk to a Dermatologist

Seborrheic dermatitis is a type of eczema affecting approximately 4 percent of all adults, according to the National Eczema Society. Before trying to treat it at home, get an accurate diagnosis from a doctor or dermatologist. The scaly patches and other symptoms can overlap with those of psoriasis and other skin disorders, so it’s important to know what you are treating. If you do have seborrheic dermatitis, the good news is that many cases can be managed with nonprescription treatments and self-care practices.

“I would encourage everyone to be examined by a board-certified dermatologist, if possible,” said one MySebDermTeam member.

Experts believe seborrheic dermatitis is caused by a combination of factors. This includes an overgrowth of Malassezia (pityrosporum) yeast — a yeast that grows naturally on the skin but triggers an immune system response in some people. Seborrheic dermatitis can occur anywhere you have hair follicles and sebaceous glands (oil glands), but it frequently affects the scalp. Symptoms include dry skin, oily hair, scaly patches, and flaky crusts.

If your dermatologist recommends prescription treatment, they may suggest:

Ask your doctor if you should start with over-the-counter products. If those don’t work, you may need to try something stronger.

2. Try Over-the-Counter Dandruff Shampoos

Some people with seborrheic dermatitis have luck calming their scalp symptoms with over-the-counter dandruff shampoos.

A few MySebDermTeam members shared their experiences:

  • “I have been using a 3 percent salicylic acid shampoo on alternating days. I find it helps a lot.”
  • “I’ve had success with a 1 percent ketoconazole shampoo you can get over the counter.”
  • “I use a dandruff shampoo. You can get it over the counter, and it works very well.”

If you try an over-the-counter dandruff shampoo, follow the instructions on the bottle or ask your dermatologist for guidance. Some products should be used twice a week, while others may cause skin irritation if used that frequently. Some products work best when massaged into the affected areas and left overnight, while others should be rinsed out after a few minutes. Rotating between two or more shampoos could improve the effectiveness.

In the active ingredients list, look for products that contain selenium sulfide, salicylic acid, ketoconazole, zinc pyrithione, or coal tar. You can also ask your dermatologist for recommendations based on your hair type. If you have light-colored hair, shampoos containing coal tar or selenium sulfide could damage or discolor it.

Depending on which active ingredients are in the products you choose, over-the-counter dandruff shampoos provide a range of benefits, including:

  • Reducing sebum (oil) and skin cell buildup
  • Controlling flaking
  • Eliminating crusts
  • Relieving an itchy scalp

3. Choose Hair Care Products Wisely

Styling products like hair sprays and gels can cause irritation that may lead to seborrheic dermatitis flare-ups on your scalp. If you feel you can’t omit those products entirely from your hair care routine and still look your best, choose alcohol-free and fragrance-free versions.

Remember, what works for one person might not work for everyone. For additional suggestions, ask others to share what styling products work for them. Consider joining a seborrheic dermatitis support group or posting a question on MySebDermTeam. And if you find something that works for you, share the love by telling others about it!

4. Look for Natural Products

When skin is hydrated, it is less likely to flare. While it may seem counterintuitive to moisturize your scalp, doing so may prevent excess sebum production and keep greasy hair away. Natural skin care products include mineral, olive, and peanut oil. Talk to a health care provider before trying any natural products, like oils, to make sure they won’t further aggravate your scalp symptoms.

If you are trying to remove scales and moisturize, apply the oil, leave it in for up to three hours, and then comb your hair before washing. If you are just trying to moisturize your scalp, apply oil or another product in the evening and cover it with a shower cap or cotton turban while you sleep. In the morning, wash it out.

Here are some ways MySebDermTeam members use natural products to keep their scalp and hair clean, shiny, and free from grease and waxy buildup:

  • “I mix 4 tablespoons of aloe vera gel, 2 teaspoons of apple cider vinegar, and 1 teaspoon of honey to make a hair mask. I apply it to my scalp and hair, leave it in for five to 20 minutes, and then rinse.”
  • “I use a pure boar bristle brush to pull sebum from my scalp and distribute it through the hair strands, keeping the sebum from collecting on my scalp and making it greasy.”

5. Wear a Hat (Maybe!)

Winter weather causes flare-ups for some, so the American Academy of Dermatology recommends wearing a hat to protect your scalp if you spend time outside when the weather is cold and dry. However, MySebDermTeam members have had mixed results.

Here is what they shared:

  • “I wore a beanie over the weekend and noticed I had significantly more flakes than when I just wash, blow dry, and let my scalp breathe.”
  • “My doctor told me that wearing a hat too much (like all winter) can hold the moisture inside and create more yeast.”
  • “Has anyone else noticed that beanies make their seborrheic dermatitis worse?”

If you decide to try a hat during the winter months, wear it only outdoors and for limited periods until you know how your scalp will react. When indoors, remove it to allow your scalp to breathe. Watch for dandruff, oily skin, and other signs of a flare-up.

If you need help or have questions about treating seborrheic dermatitis, schedule an appointment with a health care provider who specializes in dermatology. With the right combination of prescription treatments and at-home remedies, hopefully, you can soon say goodbye to greasy hair and a flaky scalp and hello to healthy hair you’re proud to show off.

Talk With Others Who Understand

On MySebDermTeam, the social network for people with seborrheic dermatitis and their loved ones, more than 7,000 members come together to ask questions, give advice, and share their stories with others who understand life with seborrheic dermatitis.

Do you experience greasy, waxy hair with seborrheic dermatitis? What strategies have helped you manage your symptoms? Share your experience in the comments below, or start a conversation by posting on your Activities page.

Posted on March 1, 2024

A MySebDermTeam Member

i used a silk scarf and it worked great, wrapped it up like a terbium.

posted July 14
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I Use PRELL Shampoo To Keep My Scalp And Hair Clean The Days I Use Ketoconazole 2% And Halobetasol .05% What Do You Think Tim 3
April 20, 2024 by A MySebDermTeam Member 5 answers
Raj Chovatiya, MD, PhD, MSCI is an assistant professor of dermatology at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago, Illinois. Learn more about him here.
Suzanne Mooney writes about people, pets, health and wellness, and travel. Learn more about her here.

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