Reviewing the Claimed Use of Garlic for the Treatment of Seborrheic Dermatitis

Though my time with this project, garlic as a holistic treatment for seborrheic dermatitis has continued to come up from time to time. To be fair, when my own issues were at their peak, I did end-up experimenting with this in several different forms (garlic oil capsules, whole gloves, crushed gloves, topical applications, enteric-coated capsules), but personally, had never seen any real benefit from any of these approaches.

On the surface, the theory and thinking behind the usage of garlic seems quite straightforward. Seborrheic dermatitis is known to respond to anti-fungal therapy (both topical and systemic) and garlic has well known natural anti-fungal properties. Hence, it’s easy to make the jump (garlic -> anti-fungal -> seborrheic dermatitis).

Despite my own lack of progress with any of the above-mentioned uses of garlic, it seemed worthwhile to return to the investigation. At the very least, it would be interesting to hear why some online sources have not only promoted this approach but why they had the success they did.

Review outcome: Garlic clearly has a number of benefits for human health; many of which are well matched to the primary features of seborrheic dermatitis. And while there isn’t enough evidence to support its use specifically for the treatment of seborrheic dermatitis, regular consumption may still tip the scales in our favor.

What is known about garlic’s anti-fungal properties

Let’s start the investigation with some review of the significance of garlic’s antifungal properties:

  • One of the most studied components of garlic is allicin [] and preliminary studies have shown its ability to suppress certain fungi is comparative to well know azole drugs (these are some of the most commonly used antifungal agents) [1]
  • Diallyl trisulfide is another less known component of garlic, but it has also shown significant antifungal activity [2]
  • The large majority of these studies are “in vitro”, meaning the effect were shown in a lab setting and “in vivo” (real-life) studies are limited [3]
Cartoon bulb of garlic flexing muscles with fungi approach - demonstrating its antifungal abilities that may be of use in the fight against seborrheic dermatitis

Possible complementary benefits of garlic in relation to the key features of seborrheic dermatitis

Even if we disregard the possibility for garlic’s antifungal properties to be effective enough to control the symptoms of seborrheic dermatitis, it’s possible that some of its other properties may be of use.

Decades of research on garlic, have shown that garlic possesses a variety of beneficial properties in addition to its antimicrobial properties. These include:

  • Improved lipid profile and beneficial impact on cardiovascular disease [4]
  • Various routes of immune system modulation (cytokine secretion, immunoglobulin production, phagocytosis, and macrophage activation) [5]
  • Enhanced regulation of blood sugar [6]
  • Antioxidant potential (more so for aged garlic – see notes) [7]
  • Reduction in inflammation [8]

And considering that some of the core documented features of seborrheic dermatitis include an abnormal immune response, increased levels of free radicals, and a run-away inflammatory response; garlic seems to be well-positioned to at-least assist on one of these fronts.

Several cloves of garlic laying beside two bulbs

Historical references to garlic in the treatment of dandruff

Looking through the medical texts, it was interesting to find that garlic actually has quite a long history of use in the treatment of dandruff:

  • Arabian herbalists use garlic for the treatment of dandruff [9]
  • European botanists of the 1500s had commonly prescribed garlic [10]

Granted these references aren’t really that much better than anecdotal (there have been some strange remedies used throughout history that wouldn’t even be considered today), but it’s pleasing to see that it seems to have been utilized.

Structural formula of R-allicin

The merits of topical application

The majority of the article has primarily focused on the possible effects of garlic when it’s eaten. But some have alluded to the application of various garlic extracts directly to the skin to increase the antifungal effect against the Malassezia on the skin surface.

Plus the fact that there are some studies that do indeed demonstrate that topical application of carefully prepared solutions can be beneficial for the treatment of a number of skin conditions [11] makes it seem like a worthy idea.

But while this may seem like a plausible idea at first, if given some additional thought the idea doesn’t seem as attractive.

Seborrheic dermatitis and dandruff are confined to sebum rich areas of skin. These areas are typically also significantly more sensitive and the condition itself makes them even more so.

And unfortunately, garlic isn’t very mild. The topical application of homemade preparations has been associated with contact dermatitis [12], chemical burns [6] and even second degree burns [13]. So for most of us, it’s probably best to avoid too much experimentation on this front.

Theorizing a possible mode of action for some individuals

Going back to those reported success cases mentioned in the beginning, what characteristics of garlic would best explain the symptom relief best? What makes garlic unique? After all, many known extracts and plants have significantly greater antioxidant potential, anti-inflammatory properties, and even immune modulation effects.

If having to select the two most unique to garlic, it would have to be it’s antifungal (helping to reduce Malassezia activity on the skin surface) and lipid-lowering properties (potentially influencing the sebum lipid profile).

These are probably the two properties of garlic that continued to fuel the research interest in the plant and also are significantly more pronounced in garlic (when compared to a large number of other candidates).

However, speculating further is unlikely to be of much use. There are far too many factors and unknowns. Plus, there really isn’t any more research specific to the effect of garlic on seborrheic dermatitis that I could dig up in.

Additional notes

  1. Other plants from the same family (such as onions, leeks, shallots, etc) also contain allicin in varying concentrations and some level of substitution may be possible
  2. Shampoo fortified with microwave dried garlic powder was shown to be effective at controlling the growth of various Malassezia strains [14]
  3. Black garlic (also known as aged garlic) extracts have a big following in Eastern medicine and the production process appears to amplify many of its beneficial characteristic [15, 16]
  4. There is such a thing a too much of a good thing and negative effects have been reported when the dosage is abnormally high [17, 7]
  5. Some extraction methods promote the conversion of Allicin to Ajoene, which could be a more useful antifungal agent in the fight against malassezia [18, 19]
  6. Due to the instability of the sulfur rich compound in garlic, extracting shelf stable actives for the production of supplements difficult to achieve and puts doubt on their effectiveness []
Bulb of black garlic laying beside several cloves and some rosemary

Conclusion

Garlic has a wide variety of documented benefits on human health and many of them seem to be suited to be of assistance in the primary features of seborrheic dermatitis. Unfortunately, while anecdotal evidence exists, there really isn’t any data in the medical literature to either confirm or deny its use for the treatment of seborrheic dermatitis.

One this is clear, the benefits of garlic seem to greatly outweigh any potential shortcomings. And integrating garlic into your regular diet is likely to be favorable in the long term.

For those with personal experience (success stories or cautionary tales), would love to hear your input in the comments section below.

References

  1. Alireza Khodavandi, Fahimeh Alizadeh, Farzad Aala, Zamberi Sekawi, Pei Pei Chong "In Vitro Investigation of Antifungal Activity of Allicin Alone and in Combination with Azoles Against Candida Species" Springer Science and Business Media LLC 169.4 (2009): 287-295. doi.org
  2. Leyla Bayan, Peir Hossain Koulivand, Ali Gorji "Garlic: a review of potential therapeutic effects." Avicenna journal of phytomedicine 4.1 (2014): 1-14. PubMed
  3. Anna Marchese, Ramona Barbieri, Ana Sanches-Silva, Maria Daglia, Seyed Fazel Nabavi, Nematollah Jonaidi Jafari, Morteza Izadi, Marjan Ajami, Seyed Mohammad Nabavi "Antifungal and antibacterial activities of allicin: A review" Elsevier BV 52 (2016): 49-56. doi.org
  4. Karin Ried, Catherine Toben, Peter Fakler "Effect of garlic on serum lipids: an updated meta-analysis." Nutrition reviews 71.5 (2013): 282-99. PubMed
  5. Rodrigo Arreola, Saray Quintero-Fabián, Rocío Ivette López-Roa, Enrique Octavio Flores-Gutiérrez, Juan Pablo Reyes-Grajeda, Lucrecia Carrera-Quintanar, Daniel Ortuño-Sahagún "Immunomodulation and anti-inflammatory effects of garlic compounds." Journal of immunology research 2015 (2016): 401630. PubMed
  6. A. Bordia, S.K. Verma, K.C. Srivastava "Effect of garlic (Allium sativum) on blood lipids, blood sugar, fibrinogen and fibrinolytic activity in patients with coronary artery disease" Elsevier BV 58.4 (2004): 257-263. doi.org
  7. S. K. Banerjee, Pulok K. Mukherjee, S. K. Maulik "Garlic as an antioxidant: the good, the bad and the ugly" Wiley 17.2 (2003): 97-106. doi.org
  8. Marcela Alejandra Vazquez-Prieto, Cecilia Rodriguez Lanzi, Carina Lembo, Claudio Rufmulo Galmarini, Roberto Miguel Miatello "Garlic and Onion Attenuates Vascular Inflammation and Oxidative Stress in Fructose-Fed Rats" Hindawi Limited 2011 (2011): 1-7. doi.org
  9. S. V. Rana, R. Pal, K. Vaiphei, Sanjeev K. Sharma, R. P. Ola "Garlic in health and disease" Cambridge University Press (CUP) 24.1 (2011): 60-71. doi.org
  10. Biljana Bauer Petrovska, Svetlana Cekovska "Extracts from the history and medical properties of garlic." Pharmacognosy reviews 4.7 (2012): 106-10. PubMed
  11. Nader Pazyar, Amir Feily "Garlic in dermatology." Dermatology reports 3.1 (2014): e4. PubMed
  12. T. Y Lee, T. H. Lam "Contact dermatitis due to topical treatment with garlic in Hong Kong" Wiley 24.3 (2006): 193-196. doi.org
  13. A.M. Baruchin, A. Sagi, B. Yoffe, M. Ronen "Garlic burns" Elsevier BV 27.7 (2002): 781-782. doi.org
  14. Deokar Gitanjali, Pethkar Prajakta, Bakshe Swati, Erande Kiran, Bhambar Rajendra "Antimalassezia Activity of Medicated Antidandruff Shampoo Formulated with Microwave Dried Garlic Powder with Improved Allicin Stability" Bentham Science Publishers Ltd. 4.1 (2014): 23-32. doi.org
  15. Shunsuke Kimura, Yen-Chen Tung, Min-Hsiung Pan, Nan-Wei Su, Ying-Jang Lai, Kuan-Chen Cheng "Black garlic: A critical review of its production, bioactivity, and application" Elsevier BV 25.1 (2016): 62-70. doi.org
  16. Joo Hee Kim, Seok Hyun Nam, Catherine W. Rico, Mi Young Kang "A comparative study on the antioxidative and anti-allergic activities of fresh and aged black garlic extracts" Wiley 47.6 (2012): 1176-1182. doi.org
  17. A Schmoldt, H F Benthe, G Haberland "Digitoxin metabolism by rat liver microsomes." Biochemical pharmacology 24.17 (1976): 1639-41. PubMed
  18. M I de González, M Mendoza, M Bastardo de Albornoz, R Apitz-Castro "[Activity of ajoene on dermatophytes, Candida albicans and Malassezia furfur.]." Revista iberoamericana de micologia 15.4 (2012): 277-81. PubMed
  19. S Yoshida, S Kasuga, N Hayashi, T Ushiroguchi, H Matsuura, S Nakagawa "Antifungal activity of ajoene derived from garlic." Applied and environmental microbiology 53.3 (1987): 615-7. PubMed
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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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