Manhattan Dermatology Specialists
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Seborrheic Dermatitis Treatment

Seborrheic Dermatitis Treatment · Dermatologist NYC

Seborrheic dermatitis, known more simply as seborrhea, is a widespread skin condition that affects more than three million people each year in the United States alone. You may find it on your scalp, elbows, and knees. In adults, it’s considered dandruff, but it can also appear on the scalp of infants as a cradle cap. It may present on your body alongside other illnesses.

In adults, seborrhea doesn’t go away on its own; it requires the diagnosis and treatment by a New York City dermatologist. Typically, you’ll need a combination of treatments as part of a customized Seborrheic Dermatitis treatment plan to effectively treat your seborrhea. Make an appointment with your dermatologist in NYC as soon as you notice red, itchy, flaky patches of skin.

Treatment Options for Seborrhea

Most treatments for seborrheic dermatitis are prescription-strength products that you can use as directed in the comfort and privacy of your home. For every treatment, you don’t need any preparation, and there’s no recovery time unless otherwise indicated. Also, you shouldn’t experience any pain when using these treatments, as most soothe irritating and burning skin symptoms.

During your consultation with your Manhattan dermatologist, disclose everything you’re using and all medications you’re taking — even those that aren’t for seborrhea — so your skin doctor can make an accurate diagnosis. Seborrhea can be embarrassing, but there are a number of Seborrheic Dermatitis treatments that may be prescribed to you. The most effective include:

Good General Skin Care

Seborrhea is a skin condition that could be an ongoing issue for your entire life. Maintaining a consistent health care regimen for your skin can decrease your symptoms’ intensity and frequency. Plus, good general skincare can prevent the outbreak of other conditions.

Your New York dermatologist can recommend effective over-the-counter options or even prescribe some that work specifically with your type of skin. Ask about them during your consultation. The simplest advice, though, is to use mild and fragrance-free soaps, lotions, and shampoos.

Coal Tar Products

Products that contain coal tar work by slowing the bacteria growth that causes seborrhea. They also soften and loosen scaly and crusty skin. These products are great for quickly relieving symptoms such as dryness, flaking, itching, and scaling. Some people don’t like coal tar products, though, because they can stain your skin.

Don’t use coal tar shampoo if you’re pregnant or plan on becoming pregnant. You should stay out of the sun when using coal tar products because they cause sun sensitivity. Coal tar also isn’t good for eczema, which is another reason your seborrhea needs to be diagnosed by a dermatologist, as these conditions can look similar.

Salicylic Acid

Salicylic acid is a topical treatment that causes shedding and peeling of the outer layer of your skin. By promoting peeling of the excess top layers of skin, symptoms such as inflammation and scaly, flaky skin begins to improve. You’ll likely need a few applications to see results.

Most people don’t experience side effects with salicylic acid treatments, but you should avoid applying the peel to your mucous membranes. Don’t smoke after an application and avoid other medications without the direct supervision of your dermatologist in New York City. Allergic reactions to the salicylic acid topical treatments are rare but serious. If you experience hives, difficulty breathing, lightheadedness, or swelling of your lips, tongue or throat, after an application, seek medical attention immediately.

Selenium Sulfide

Selenium sulfide is an ingredient found in most shampoos for seborrhea. It’s an anti-fungal medication. Since seborrhea can be caused by a number of conditions, this ingredient is useful for fighting fungal sources. Don’t use this when using any other over-the-counter shampoos.

Selenium sulfide products can provide quick relief from your seborrheic dermatitis symptoms. There are little to no side effects, but be sure to use these products exactly as directed by your dermatologist. This is a commonly prescribed treatment that you use in conjunction with other Seborrheic Dermatitis treatments.

Ketoconazole Topicals

Prescription ketoconazole topical creams, gels, and shampoos are prescribed if your seborrhea is caused by fungus. The topical agent prevents fungus from growing. It treats the cause and reduces symptoms quickly. This is a prescription-strength medicine, so there are few possible side effects:

  • Nausea, including stomach pain and vomiting
  • Headache or dizziness
  • Minor itching
  • Swelling in your breasts
  • Possible loss of interest in sex

Try a little of the cream, gel, or shampoo on a small patch of skin to determine whether you’re allergic to it. Avoid mucous membranes and apply exactly as directed by your Manhattan dermatologist.


Ciclopirox topical creams and shampoos are another antifungal. They can prevent your seborrhea from getting worse. Ciclopirox stops the growth of fungus and helps clear up irritated skin symptoms. A prescription-only product, use it only under the supervision of your dermatologist. Don’t use it at the same time as any over-the-counter products.

Side effects of Ciclopirox are minor, except in rare cases or from an allergic reaction. Stop using it if you experience hives, shortness of breath, worsening of itching, or discoloration of your nails.

Zinc Pyrithione

Zinc pyrithione is an active ingredient in many topical creams your dermatologist may recommend. It works to alleviate symptoms of seborrhea such as rashes, red or irritated skin, and itchy, flaky skin.

There are almost no side effects from zinc pyrithione. It’s effective most of the time, so the only drawback is that your skin may not improve or — only in rare cases — it may become worse.

Sulfur Products

Sulfur products are topical applications that promote peeling of your skin. The process allows the excess layers of dry skin to flake off. It quickly relieves symptoms of seborrhea and is typically recommended with other treatments.

Don’t use sulfur products on sunburned skin. Avoid the sun while using this kind of treatment, as it makes you more light-sensitive. Don’t use it on eczema or on your mucous membranes. There are few side effects, but alert your dermatologist if your symptoms worsen or don’t improve.

Corticosteroid Lotions

Corticosteroid lotions are sometimes prescribed for serious cases of seborrheic dermatitis. Corticosteroids reduce inflammation and very quickly reduce the agitating effects of the condition.

Side effects are common to those with other steroids, so if you’ve had reactions to steroids in the past, tell your dermatologist. Side effects include:

  • The possible onset of glaucoma
  • Lower leg swelling
  • Elevated blood pressure
  • Psychological disorders and mood swings
  • Unexplained weight gain

Light Therapy

Light therapy is the application of ultraviolet light to the affected area. The procedure is usually performed by your dermatologist in-office. It can either be a treatment of ultraviolet A or B light.

While light Seborrheic Dermatitis treatments are very effective, they’ve also been found to be carcinogenic. You need to discuss the procedure in-depth with your NYC dermatologist before you agree to undergo light therapy. Usually, this procedure is prescribed only for very serious conditions of seborrhea.

Important Reminder: This information is only intended to provide guidance, not definitive medical advice. Please consult dermatologist NYC about your specific condition. Only a trained, experienced board-certified dermatology doctor or pediatric dermatologist can determine an accurate diagnosis and proper treatment.

Updated on Mar 7, 2023 by Dr. Susan Bard (Dermatologist), Manhattan Dermatology Specialists Locations: Manhattan Dermatology (Upper East Side) 983 Park Ave, Ste 1D1, NY 10028
(212) 427-8750
Manhattan Dermatology (Midtown) 56 W 45th St, Ste 819, NY 10036
(212) 889-2402
Manhattan Dermatology (Union Square) 55 W 17th St, Ste 103, NY 10011
(212) 378-9984
DISCLAIMER: PLEASE READ CAREFULLY The information on this website is to provide general information. The information on this website does NOT reflect definitive medical advice and self diagnoses should not be made based on information obtained online. It is important to consult a physician for a consultation and examination regarding ANY and ALL symptoms or signs you may be having. An accurate diagnosis and treatment plan should only be made by your physician in order to exclude a serious condition.
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