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Seborrheic Dermatitis and Depression: Is There a Connection?

Medically reviewed by Kevin Berman, M.D., Ph.D.
Written by Joan Grossman
Posted on February 2, 2023

Researchers have studied the connections between depression and inflammatory skin diseases — such as seborrheic dermatitis — widely over the past several decades. There’s no doubt that seborrheic dermatitis can cause physical and psychological discomfort that can affect mental and emotional well-being. Although research specific to seborrheic dermatitis and depression is still somewhat limited, early data suggests these conditions are linked in significant ways.

Seborrheic dermatitis is a common type of eczema, an inflammatory skin condition that causes patches of flaky, itchy, and greasy scales. Depending on skin tone, these rashes can appear red, purple, or brown. The condition occurs in oily areas of the skin, particularly around the nose and eyebrows and on the scalp, where sebaceous (oil) glands are more prevalent. On the scalp, seborrheic dermatitis is called dandruff. Seborrheic dermatitis is a chronic (ongoing) condition that currently has no cure.

Depression is a type of mood disorder, or psychiatric disorder, that causes lasting feelings of sadness, hopelessness, and apathy. Major depression can cause debilitating disruptions in daily life and may lead to physical problems, such as body aches or digestive disorders. Dysthymia (minor depression) is less severe but has a risk of developing into major depression.

MySebDermTeam members sometimes discuss their experiences with depression related to seborrheic dermatitis. “Loss of most of my hair — miserable, depressing, and scary,” one member said.

Another member said, “It’s ugly and messes with my self-esteem.” A third said, “It feels shameful.”

If you experience depression with seborrheic dermatitis, you can work with your health care team to treat both your skin and your mental health. Here are some of the key connections between these two health conditions, so you can discuss them further with your doctor.

Is Depression Related to Seborrheic Dermatitis?

Depression is often a comorbidity — a coinciding health condition — of seborrheic dermatitis. People with depression have been found to have a higher risk of seborrheic dermatitis than the general population. Likewise, studies suggest that people with seborrheic dermatitis have an increased risk of depression. There is a known link between seborrheic dermatitis and Parkinson’s disease, which shows a relationship between the skin and the brain.

In one study with 300 participants, people with depression were almost three times more likely to have seborrheic dermatitis than a control group without depression.

A smaller study examined a correlation between depression and people with psoriasis or seborrheic dermatitis. People with psoriasis were found to have a higher prevalence of major depression, while those with seborrheic dermatitis were more likely to develop minor depression.

Depression is a common psychological disorder. Although depression can develop at any age, it usually starts in adulthood. Children with high levels of anxiety are believed to be at higher risk of developing depression. Additional risk factors include:

  • Family history of depression
  • Brain chemistry imbalances
  • Serious life changes or traumas
  • Some health conditions
  • Certain types of drugs

Causes of Seborrheic Dermatitis With Depression

Seborrheic dermatitis can cause changes in appearance and persistent itchiness, which can negatively affect your quality of life. “I stopped going places out of embarrassment,” one MySebDermTeam member shared. Another wrote, “It’s on my mind constantly and has decreased my level of living.”

These feelings of physical discomfort, self-consciousness, and social isolation can contribute to the development of depression and anxiety.

Seborrheic dermatitis is known as a psychophysiologic condition because it can be triggered by psychological stress and stressful life events. Psychophysiologic conditions have both physical and psychological factors. Although there are significant differences between stress and depression, stress has been linked to the development of depression. Stress causes changes in hormones and brain chemistry that may affect brain pathways associated with depression.

The chemical changes caused by stress and depression are also linked to immune system function and inflammatory response. Both stress and depression have been found to increase disease severity in people with seborrheic dermatitis. More severe depression can be connected to the worsening of more severe seborrheic dermatitis symptoms.

Medication Side Effects

Some medications used to treat depression are associated with an increased risk of eczema and other skin side effects. Mood stabilizers such as valproic acid and neuroleptics like aripiprazole and quetiapine are linked to a risk of seborrheic dermatitis. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), such as paroxetine and fluvoxamine, increase the risk of seborrheic dermatitis, as do tricyclic antidepressants such as clomipramine.

The oral antifungal medications terbinafine (Lamisil) and fluconazole (Diflucan), which are sometimes used to treat severe seborrheic dermatitis, may increase the risk of depression and anxiety.

Managing Depression and Seborrheic Dermatitis

Be sure to let your doctors know if you have feelings of depression. Depression is treatable. Depending on the severity, depression can often be helped with psychotherapy or medication. Your doctor can give you a referral to a mental health counselor or a psychiatrist to learn more about your treatment options. Some people may benefit from mindfulness training and other relaxation techniques.

Because of the links between seborrheic dermatitis and depression, researchers recommend coordinating dermatologic care and psychiatric care. It’s essential to let your dermatologist know if you are taking medication for depression or considering doing so. You’ll also want to let your mental health care team know about any medications you take for seborrheic dermatitis. Some drugs might trigger or worsen your seborrheic dermatitis, but your doctors can help you choose the medicine that works best for you.

Find Your Team

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

Do you have questions about seborrheic dermatitis and depression? Have you had feelings of depression that you discussed with your doctor? Share your experience in the comments below, or start a conversation by posting on your Activities page.

    Posted on February 2, 2023
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    Kevin Berman, M.D., Ph.D. is a dermatologist at the Atlanta Center for Dermatologic Disease, Atlanta, GA. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Learn more about him here.
    Joan Grossman is a freelance writer, filmmaker, and consultant based in Brooklyn, NY. Learn more about her here.

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