An introduction to seborrhoeic eczema
Seborrhoeic eczema is a form of eczema commonly caused by a specific strain of yeast that inhabits our skin.
The name arises from the sebaceous glands as the condition often affects oily areas of the skin such as the face, scalp, chest, eyelids and ears.
It is estimated that seborrhoeic eczema affects about 3-5% of the UK population and can be considered more common in men than in women.1
Seborrhoeic eczema is not contagious, although it can be considered chronic, often characterised by flare-ups and periods where symptoms are not as pronounced.
However, the condition can be outgrown as the affliction often presents itself in babies – commonly known as ‘cradle cap’ - but does not linger or reappear later on in life.
The causes of seborrhoeic eczema
The causes of seborrhoeic eczema are usually attached to the population of the melassezia yeast on the surface of our skin.
In regulated and controlled amounts, this yeast is normally harmless and sometimes even beneficial for the skin’s microbiota system, however if populations are allowed to swell exponentially, it can trigger an eczema reaction.
It is important to understand how this yeast can multiply so rapidly and what other causes can contribute to any eczema symptoms.
- Melassezia yeast: Melassezia is a fungal yeast that forms a valuable part of the skin’s microbiota system and it is usually considered to be harmless. However, when this strain is given adequate conditions to reproduce, it can start to degenerate the condition of your skin. This is because the yeast feeds off sebum and fats produced by the sebaceous glands, and the by-products caused by this digestive process can stimulate a negative reaction.2 This type of yeast can also prove problematic to the immune system as it releases chemicals capable of interrupting the usual immune response to an invading pathogen, inhibiting the recovery time and worsening any associated symptoms
- Weak immune system: The immune system is the body’s first line of defence against infections, viruses and invading pathogens. When the levels of melassezia on the surface of your skin become unbalanced, this yeast can suppress the immune system from responding adequately to the threat. If your immune system is already weakened by a pre-existing illness such as HIV, Parkinson’s disease or obesity, then it will continue to struggle against the fungi and will likely be overwhelmed by having to produce chemicals such as histamine or cortisol, and any eczema symptoms will continue to persist and gradually become more serious, putting you at risk of developing complications such as a secondary bacterial or fungal infection
- Poor nutrition: It is always important to try and support the immune system, especially if it is already predisposed to weakness or deficiency. One factor that can greatly impact your immune system is your diet. For example, if you consume food or drink products that contain caffeine, alcohol, process sugars or fats then your immune system will become stressed and fatigued, making you more vulnerable to pathogens. This is because these products are rich in inflammatory chemicals which can over- stimulate the immune system, and fatty oils which will only enrich the food source of the malassezia yeast, worsening your symptoms and making it more difficult for the immune system to launch a counterattack against the fungi
- Stress: Stress is rarely the sole cause of an illness but it can certainly contribute to exacerbating its symptoms. When you feel stress your immune system will initiate a ‘flight or fight’ response, flooding your body with inflammatory chemicals such as histamine and cortisol. This constant release of chemicals will eventually tire the immune system, preventing it from recognising the melassezia fungi or from being able to properly respond. These chemicals can also irritate your symptoms even further, increasing the likelihood of itching, inflammation and irritation. Stress can also have a negative impact on other areas of our life, such as our sleep pattern, exacerbating our psychological symptoms the following day, leading into a vicious cycle. Your digestion can also be impacted by emotional distress, leading to bouts of constipation and diarrhoea.
The symptoms of seborrhoeic eczema
In order to identify your skin infection and differentiate it from other similar afflictions, it is important to be familiar with the associated symptoms.
The symptoms of seborrhoeic eczema are usually commonplace in other variant of the condition, although itching is noticeably less pronounced whereas incidents of dry, flaky skin can be considered more prevalent.
- Skin pigmentation: The melassezia yeast can release chemicals that can alter the pigmentation of the skin, making it appear paler in certain places
- Dry skin: Dry skin is a common side-effect of many conditions but it eczema it can occur as dandruff, a mild irritation that affects around 50% of the population in the UK. It can vary in severity but at its worst, dry, scaly and flaky skin can leave the sufferer at risk of contracting a secondary bacterial infection.
- Rash: In seborrhoeic eczema, an angry red rash can appear in the affected area, and is often highly visible, contributing to psychological symptoms such as stress
- Itching: The itching associated with seborrhoeic eczema is not as severe as it is found in other skin conditions. Nevertheless, continuous scratching can leave the skin exposed and vulnerable to a secondary bacterial infection
- Hair loss: When seborrhoeic eczema appears in the scalp, it can sometimes appear as a mild form of dandruff or become a more serious problem, affecting the hair follicles, sometimes weakening hair, making it more brittle and prone to falling out
- Stress: If you suffer from seborrhoeic eczema, then it is likely that your physical symptoms will start to stimulate feelings of stress, anxiety and even depression. This is because the visibility of symptoms such as hair loss, and dry skin can make you feel self-conscious and have serious repercussions for your self-esteem, impacting upon your quality of life
There are many different home remedies aimed at tackling the symptoms of seborrhoea eczema. It is important to remember that though these solutions have been tried and tested, it is still vital that you contact your doctor if you notice that your symptoms are changing in any way or getting worse.
- Relax: If you are suffering from a skin condition with such highly visible symptoms, then it can begin to have an impact on your emotional wellbeing as you feel more exposed and vulnerable than usual. It is important though, to try and reduce these feelings of stress as they can have a knock-on effect on your immune system, perhaps worsening your symptoms and prolonging their existence. Instead try to find ways to relieve the tension you are feeling and take some time out of your day to focus on yourself. You can do this by trying to unwind with a luxurious bath or spending an hour with your favourite book. It might even be worthwhile considering meditation as this can teach you proper breathing techniques and how to master your stressful emotions in times of pressure or tense situations
- Good nutrition: Your diet can be a major cause of stress to your immune system so it is essential that you take steps to try and include foods that will beneficial rather than harmful. Reducing your intake of alcohol and caffeine will take pressure off your adrenal glands while including plenty of vitamin C and green, leafy vegetables will help to give your immune system a much needed boost. Foods such as ginger and garlic have natural anti-fungal properties which may help to regulate the population of yeast on the surface of your skin. It may be useful to consider cutting out dairy products as these can interrupt your digestion and increase the amounts of yeast found in your gut, contributing to eczema symptoms
- Coconut oil: Coconut oil is an excellent source of anti-oxidants and has natural anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial properties as well as acting as an anti-fungal agent. If it is taken internally, it can work to strengthen the immune system whereas if it is applied topically, it can rejuvenate the skin, providing nourishment and hydration, helping to encourage new growth and regeneration. You can find a variety of reasonably priced coconut oils and capsules here at Your Health Food Store
- Apple cider vinegar: Apple cider vinegar is capable of inhibiting the production of yeast and has numerous benefits, being rich in vitamins and essential minerals. It can be taken internally to boost the immune system or applied directly to the affected area. If you’re looking to obtain some high-quality, organic apple cider vinegar, then it might be worthwhile checking out Your Health Food Store
- Honey: Sticky and sweet, honey might sound like an unusual topical treatment for your skin, but it is known to have anti-bacterial properties and to have a positive effect on your digestive system. It is also good at keeping skin hydrated and strengthening the epidermis, providing a protective layer against any invasive pathogens. Raw, unprocessed honey, or Manuka honey, is best and can be applied directly to the affected area or even mixed with a little apple cider vinegar. Just remember to wash it off thoroughly to avoid any unwanted stickiness. You can find an array of Manuka honey products at Your Health Food Store.
Herbal remedies might be a worthwhile option to consider if your feel that conventional medicines are inhibiting your recovery or not working adequately enough to fight your symptoms. If at any point you feel that your symptoms are worsening then you should speak to your doctor as soon as possible.
- Neem cream: Neem Cream is a soothing treatment for dry, irritated skin made from the fresh extracts of neem leaves. It can also come as a shampoo if your eczema has spread to your scalp, offering some relief for your hair as it works to nourish and strengthen hair follicles. Neem might not be suitable for those who suffer from nut allergies or pregnant women
- Vitamin C: An organic vitamin C supplement, Nature-C is made using natural fruit extracts and can be taken to support the immune system and maintain skin health. Nature-C is suitable for anyone over the age of 6 and should be taken as directed in the instructions
- Molkosan®: Since around 70% of your immune cells exist in your gut, it’s important to look after this area of the body. Molkosan® is a prebiotic that is rich in L+ lactic acid and can work to creative a positive environment for your good gut bacteria, boosting your digestive system and preventing a build-up of bad bacteria
- Viola tricolor: Viola tricolor contains natural extracts of wild pansy, as well as essential flavonoids that can support your capillaries. The remedy is often recommended to treat inflammatory conditions like eczema, and can even have a depurative effect on the bloodstream. The tincture is suitable for children over the age of 2 but should not be used by pregnant or breastfeeding women
- Stress relief daytime: Stress Relief Daytime is made using extracts of Valerian and is good at naturally supporting your moods, making it easier for you to cope in difficult or trying circumstance. It can also work to improve your confidence, allowing you to feel more in control of your eczema symptoms
- Dormeasan®: Dormeasan® is a natural sleep remedy that might be worthwhile considering if your eczema symptoms are disrupting your sleep pattern. Non-drowsy, our solution works to restore a normal sleep cycle and is made using extracts of Valerian and hops. It should not be taken by those who are pregnant though, or those whose medication is affected by alcohol consumption.
If your eczema symptoms are inhibiting your quality of life then it is likely your doctor will prescribe a range of conventional medicines.
Any medication should be taken exactly as directed but some of them might cause a few unpleasant side-effects or even exaggerate existing symptoms. In these cases, you should go back and speak to your doctor in order to find a solution that works for you.
- Anti-fungal creams: If you’re suffering from seborrhoeic eczema, then it is possible that your doctor will recommend an anti-fungal cream or shampoo in order to control the population of yeast on the surface of your skin and reduce any associated symptoms. These treatments can often be bought over the counter, but can sometimes exacerbate existing symptoms and cause a burning sensation. If you feel as though this conventional solution is making your symptoms worse then you should speak to your doctor
- Steroid creams: Steroid creams have to be prescribed your doctor and can be applied directly to the affected area to reduce swelling and irritation. However, any variant of steroid medication should not be taken for a prolonged period of time and can trigger unpleasant side-effects such as acne
- Antibiotics: If your skin condition continues to persist then your doctor might prescribe you a course of antibiotics to prevent a secondary bacterial infection from occurring. These antibiotics might cause a few side-effects such as sickness or diarrhoea
- Anti-depressants: If your physical eczema symptoms are having a drastic impact on your psychological welfare, then your doctor might suggest a course of anti-depressants. These can vary in strengths and some may not be compatible with your body so you may end up trying a few different types before you find one that works.