Seborrheic dermatitis is a common inflammatory skin condition that causes red, itchy, flaky skin. It most often affects the scalp, but can also occur on the face, upper chest, back, and other areas of the body. Seborrheic dermatitis symptoms flare and subside, and can be managed with medicated shampoos, creams, and other treatments prescribed by a dermatologist.
Probiotics are live microorganisms that provide health benefits when consumed. They help maintain the natural balance of organisms in the microbiome of the gut and skin. Research is exploring whether probiotics could be a useful complementary therapy for seborrheic dermatitis and other inflammatory skin conditions.
The Complex Causes of Seborrheic Dermatitis
The exact causes of seborrheic dermatitis are not fully understood. It likely results from a combination of factors:
- Yeast: A yeast called Malassezia that lives on the skin seems to play a role. It feeds on oils secreted by the skin’s sebaceous glands. An overgrowth of yeast may irritate the skin and trigger inflammation.
- Immune system: Inflammation appears to be involved. The condition may stem from an abnormal immune system response to the yeast and other microorganisms on the skin.
- Genetics: Some people seem to have a genetic predisposition for seborrheic dermatitis. It often runs in families.
- Stress and mood: Flare ups are more common during periods of stress, depression, fatigue, and mood changes. The connection between the brain, nervous system, and skin inflammation is complex.
- Weather and skin oils: Symptoms often worsen in cold, dry weather when skin can become drier. Excessively oily skin also seems to increase risk.
- Other factors: Skin conditions like acne, psoriasis, and blepharitis are associated with increased risk. The exact relationship is unclear.
How Could Probiotics Help?
Researchers are exploring whether probiotics could help improve seborrheic dermatitis by targeting some of the potential underlying causes:
Balancing the Skin Microbiome
- The microbiome refers to the bacteria, fungi, and other microorganisms living on the skin. An imbalance or overgrowth of yeast like Malassezia may provoke inflammation in seborrheic dermatitis.
- Probiotics may help: Probiotics contain beneficial microorganisms that could help rebalance the skin microbiome and prevent yeast overgrowth . Certain strains of probiotics produce antimicrobial compounds that inhibit pathogens like Malassezia .
- Chronic inflammation seems to play a role in seborrheic dermatitis. This inflammation may be related to immune system dysfunction or microbiome imbalance.
- Probiotics may help: Probiotics can help regulate inflammation in the gut. There is some evidence they may also help control inflammation systemically and in the skin .
Supporting Skin Barrier Function
- Impaired skin barrier function may contribute to increased water loss and skin irritation in seborrheic dermatitis.
- Probiotics may help: Probiotics applied topically have been found to enhance skin barrier function, increase skin hydration, and reduce sensitivity .
Improving Mental Health
- Mental health disorders and stress are closely tied to seborrheic dermatitis flares. Exact mechanisms are unknown.
- Probiotics may help: Early research suggests certain probiotics strains could reduce anxiety, depression, and stress – all factors associated with seborrheic dermatitis .
Potential Benefits of Probiotics for Seborrheic Dermatitis
A growing number of preliminary studies suggest probiotics may offer helpful benefits for managing seborrheic dermatitis:
- Small studies have found topical probiotics improved symptoms when applied to the skin of patients with atopic dermatitis .
- Probiotic supplements and foods have been shown to help treat other inflammatory skin conditions like eczema, acne, and psoriasis .
- Probiotic skin care products are becoming more widely available. Users often report improvements in skin hydration, sensitivity, and comfort.
- Patients who consume probiotic foods or supplements frequently self-report improvements in seborrheic dermatitis symptoms and flare ups.
- Some studies indicate probiotics may help modulate sebum production, reducing greasiness and improving acne . Excess sebum is often noted as a possible contributing factor to seborrheic dermatitis.
- Early research shows certain probiotic strains can decrease markers of systemic inflammation . Chronic inflammation is implicated as an integral seborrheic dermatitis (the direction of the relationship is still debated).
- A few very small studies found probiotic supplements improved depressive symptoms and anxiety in patients . This could hypothetically help reduce flare ups.
Much more research is still needed to validate these preliminary findings and understand exactly how probiotics may improve seborrheic dermatitis. But current evidence indicates probiotics have potential as a complementary therapy.
Choosing Probiotic Supplements or Foods
If you want to try probiotics for seborrheic dermatitis, here are some tips:
- Consult your dermatologist – Discuss whether probiotics may be helpful and get advice on choosing products.
- Choose reputable brands – Look for well-studied strains from reputable supplement companies.
- Try different strains – Effects can vary substantially between probiotic strains and species.
- Pair with prebiotics – Prebiotics provide “fuel” probiotics need to colonize and grow.
- Eat probiotic foods – Kefir, yogurt, sauerkraut, and other fermented foods contain probiotics.
- Check labels for CFUs – Choose a supplement with at least 1 billion live active cultures per serving.
- Take daily – Consistency appears key to getting benefits from probiotics.
Applying Probiotics Topically
Another option is applying beneficial microbes directly to the skin in the form of topical probiotic skincare products. These may include:
- Probiotic creams/serums – Can be massaged directly onto affected areas. Look for hydrating formulas.
- Probiotic cleansing oils – May help gently cleanse while adding beneficial microbes.
- Probiotic moisturizers – Hydrating, soothing formulas may improve skin barrier.
- Probiotic masks – Weekly masks deliver a concentrated dose of probiotics to the skin.
- Probiotic shampoos – May balance yeast and bacteria on the scalp.
For topical use, choose products using well-studied probiotic strains known to benefit skin. Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium are common. Introduce new products one at a time and discontinue use if any irritation develops.
Probiotics As Part of A Multifaceted Approach
It’s important to note probiotics should not replace standard medical treatments for seborrheic dermatitis prescribed by your dermatologist. Probiotics are best viewed as a potential complementary therapy to be used alongside other strategies.
A multifaceted approach to caring for seborrheic dermatitis may include:
- Using medicated shampoos and topical treatments as prescribed
- Taking prescribed or over-the-counter oral medications
- Seeing your dermatologist for professional cleaning/treatments
- Using gentle skin care and moisturizing products
- Reducing stress and supporting mental health through lifestyle changes
- Considering dietary modifications to support skin and microbiome health
- Exploring potential benefits of probiotics and other supplements
Adopting a holistic approach to managing seborrheic dermatitis can help improve the overall health of your skin and potentially reduce flare-ups.
Remember, everyone’s skin is different, and what works for one person may not work for another. It may take some trial and error to find the right combination of treatments and lifestyle changes that work best for you.
Other Complementary Approaches
In addition to probiotics, other complementary therapies may provide benefits for seborrheic dermatitis:
- Tea tree oil – Has anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties. May help reduce scaling and irritation when applied topically. Use only diluted preparations.
- Aloe vera – Has soothing, anti-inflammatory effects. May reduce symptoms when applied to the skin. Choose pure gel preparations.
- Omega-3 fatty acids – Anti-inflammatory effects may help calm irritation. Found in fish, walnuts, flaxseeds.
- Vitamin D – Many patients are deficient. Supplementation may help regulate immune responses.
- Stress management – Techniques like meditation, yoga, counseling may help reduce flares.
- Probiotic foods – Consume yogurt, kefir, kimchi, sauerkraut, pickles, miso, tempeh.
- Prebiotic fiber – “Feeds” good bacteria. Get from vegetables, fruits, whole grains, beans.
- Diet and lifestyle – Eat a healthy anti-inflammatory diet, exercise, hydrate, and get sufficient sleep.
Always consult your dermatologist before making major changes to your seborrheic dermatitis treatment plan. Small tweaks like probiotics and dietary adjustments may be reasonable to try, but don’t alter or discontinue prescription medications without medical guidance.
The Bottom Line
Early research indicates probiotics have potential to be a helpful complementary therapy for seborrheic dermatitis. They may help balance the microbiome, regulate inflammation, support skin barrier health, and improve mental health – all factors that may influence seborrheic dermatitis.
Both oral supplements and topical probiotic skin care products show promise based on initial studies for other inflammation driven skin conditions. Larger scale research is still needed to confirm effects.
Probiotics should not replace standard medical treatment. But when used as part of a multifaceted approach focused on lifestyle factors, probiotics may provide additional benefits for stubborn seborrheic dermatitis cases.
Always consult your dermatologist before making major changes to your treatment regimen. But probiotics may be a beneficial complementary therapy worth discussing at your next appointment.