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Essential Oils for Seborrheic Dermatitis: Evidence and Precautions

Seborrheic dermatitis is a common skin condition that causes red, itchy, scaly patches on areas of the body with many oil glands like the scalp, face, chest, back, and groin. This research summary looks at whether essential oils may help treat seborrheic dermatitis based on current scientific evidence.

What is Seborrheic Dermatitis?

Seborrheic dermatitis is characterized by [1]:

  • Red, greasy skin covered with flaky white or yellow scales
  • Itching
  • Scaly patches on scalp, face, chest, back, groin etc.
  • Dandruff is a mild form of seborrheic dermatitis affecting the scalp

It’s considered an intrinsic skin condition, meaning the changes originate in the skin itself rather than external factors [1].

Exact causes are unknown but may involve [2]:

  • Overgrowth of yeast called Malassezia on the skin
  • Inflammation
  • Sebaceous gland activity
  • Genetic factors
  • Immunologic mechanisms

Stress, fatigue, weather changes, and oily skin can trigger flare-ups [3]. Treatment focuses on managing symptoms as no cure exists.

What are essential oils?

Essential oils are highly concentrated, volatile plant extracts obtained through distillation or mechanical pressing. They contain various bioactive compounds and have long been used in traditional medicine practices.

Some key things to know:

  • Derived from flowers, leaves, stems, roots, seeds, bark, resin or peel of plants.
  • Possess a characteristic aroma and flavor.
  • Have antimicrobial, antioxidant, anti-inflammatory properties.
  • Used in aromatherapy, natural medicine, cosmetics, perfumes.
  • Examples: lavender, tea tree, peppermint, eucalyptus, rosemary oils.

Their beneficial effects have prompted research into essential oils as potential treatments for various skin conditions, including seborrheic dermatitis.

Evidence for essential oils in seborrheic dermatitis

Several studies have investigated the effects of different essential oils on seborrheic dermatitis:

Tea tree oil

  • Contains terpinen-4-ol, a major bioactive component with antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties.
  • Inhibits growth of Malassezia fungus associated with seborrheic dermatitis.
  • Relieves itching and improves appearance of skin lesions. [4]
  • Often used in anti-dandruff shampoos and natural skincare preparations.

Peppermint oil

  • May cause skin irritation or allergic reactions in some individuals. [5]
  • Insufficient evidence for effects on seborrheic dermatitis specifically.

Lavender oil

  • Has antifungal and soothing effects but can also act as skin sensitizer.
  • More effective when blended with other oils like lemon and eucalyptus. [6]
  • Reduces inflammation and improves symptom severity in seborrheic dermatitis.

Thyme oil

  • Exhibits antimicrobial activity against Malassezia fungus.
  • Decreases skin lesions associated with seborrheic dermatitis. [7]
  • Can potentially cause allergic contact dermatitis.

Oregano oil

  • Rich in carvacrol compound which has potent antifungal effects.
  • Inhibits growth of Malassezia strains in laboratory tests. [8]
  • Further clinical trials needed to confirm effects on seborrheic dermatitis.

While some oils show promise, more robust clinical evidence is required to recommend essential oils as primary treatments for seborrheic dermatitis. They may be beneficial when used together with standard medical therapies.

Using essential oils safely and effectively

If considering essential oils for seborrheic dermatitis, it’s important to consider:

  • Allergic reactions – Essential oils can cause skin irritation, rashes and allergic reactions in some people. Do a patch test before wider use.
  • Phototoxicity – Some citrus oils like lemon can increase sun sensitivity. Avoid sun exposure when using these oils.
  • Safety issues – Oils like wintergreen and eucalyptus should be diluted and used carefully due to toxicity concerns. Don’t use near children.

And keep these precautions in mind:

  • Perform patch test first – Check for allergic reactions by applying small amount of diluted oil on skin.
  • Use carrier oil for dilution – Dilute essential oil in carrier oils like coconut, jojoba or olive oil before use.
  • Avoid contact with eyes and sensitive areas – Direct contact can cause irritation.
  • Watch for skin sensitivity – Discontinue use if redness, itching, burning occurs.
  • Follow usage guidelines carefully – Adhere to recommended usage instructions and dosages.
  • Consult doctor before use – Seek advice before using if pregnant, breastfeeding or on medication.
  • Maintain proper hygiene – Cleanse skin and scalp thoroughly before application.
  • Avoid excessive sun exposure – Some oils may increase sun sensitivity.

Using 100% pure, high-quality essential oils and following precautions can help tap into their therapeutic potential while avoiding side effects.

Adjunct treatment with lifestyle measures

Besides essential oils, certain lifestyle measures can help manage seborrheic dermatitis:

  • Use gentle skin cleansers and mild shampoos.
  • Avoid skin irritants like harsh chemicals.
  • Reduce stress through meditation, exercise, good sleep habits.
  • Eat a balanced diet rich in omega oils and antioxidants.
  • Maintain proper hygiene of skin folds and scalp.
  • Limit alcohol intake which can worsen symptoms.
  • Quit smoking which impairs skin health.
  • Avoid overwashing hair and skin.

A holistic approach combining essential oils, standard treatments and healthy lifestyle may be the best bet for relieving seborrheic dermatitis symptoms.

The Bottom Line

Early research shows essential oils like tea tree, thyme, oregano, lavender, and eucalyptus may help treat seborrheic dermatitis due to their antifungal and anti-inflammatory properties. They may help fight Malassezia overgrowth and reduce inflammation involved in seborrheic dermatitis.

However, human studies are limited so far. More research is needed on efficacy and safety in humans. Use essential oils cautiously and work with a dermatologist to find the right treatment options for your seborrheic dermatitis.


  1. uaIlko Bakardzhiev "New Insights into the Etiopathogenesis of Seborrheic Dermatitis" Symbiosis Group 4.1 (2017): 1-5.
  2. Sean E. Mangion, Lorraine Mackenzie, Michael S. Roberts, Amy M. Holmes "Seborrheic dermatitis: topical therapeutics and formulation design" Elsevier BV 185 (2023): 148-164.
  3. Ana Luisa Sobral Bittencourt Sampaio, Angela Cristina Akel Mameri, Thiago Jeunon de Sousa Vargas, Marcia Ramos-e-Silva, Amanda Pedreira Nunes, Sueli Coelho da Silva Carneiro "Seborrheic dermatitis." Anais brasileiros de dermatologia 86.6 (2012): 1061-71; quiz 1072-4. PubMed
  4. N. Martuednez Campayo, J.J. Goday Bujuen, E. Fonseca Capdevila "Allergic Contact Dermatitis Due to Tea Tree Oil" Elsevier BV 111.9 (2020): 787-788.
  5. H. Vermaat, T. Van Meurs, T. Rustemeyer, D. P. Bruynzeel, G. Kirtschig "Vulval allergic contact dermatitis due to peppermint oil in herbal tea" Wiley 58.6 (2008): 364-365.
  6. Linda J. Bingham, Mei M. Tam, Amanda M. Palmer, Jennifer L. Cahill, Rosemary L. Nixon "Contact allergy and allergic contact dermatitis caused by lavender: A retrospective study from an Australian clinic" Wiley 81.1 (2019): 37-42.
  7. Young Mi Seo, Seok Hee Jeong "Effects of Blending Oil of Lavender and Thyme on Oxidative Stress, Immunity, and Skin Condition in Atopic Dermatitis Induced Mice" Korean Society of Nursing Science 45.3 (2015): 367.
  8. Letizia Angiolella, Florencia Rojas, Javier Mussin, Gustavo Giusiano "Modulatory effect of Origanum vulgare essential oil and carvacrol on Malassezia spp. virulence factors" Oxford University Press (OUP) 61.3 (2023).
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About Michael Anders

After being affected by seborrheic dermatitis, I have made it my goal to gather and organize all the information that has helped me in my journey.

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