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Navigating Seborrheic Dermatitis: Foods to Avoid

Seborrheic dermatitis is a common chronic inflammatory skin condition that causes flaking, scaling, redness, and itching. It primarily affects sebum-rich areas like the scalp, face, chest, back and groin creases [1].

For many suffering from stubborn seborrheic dermatitis symptoms despite conventional treatments, the question often arises – could my diet be making things worse? Emerging research provides some clues.

What Causes Seborrheic Dermatitis Flare-ups?

While the exact cause remains unclear, several key factors are believed to contribute to seborrheic dermatitis:

  • Yeast Overgrowth: A yeast called Malassezia is thought play a major role. Though present on normal skin, Malassezia growth goes unchecked in seborrheic dermatitis, provoking inflammation [2].
  • Skin Barrier Disruption: Those with seborrheic dermatitis show abnormalities in skin barrier proteins and increased water loss, allowing irritants easier access [3].
  • Immune Dysfunction: Genetic studies reveal variations in genes governing immunity and skin barrier function [1].
  • Sebum Changes: Alterations in sebum amount and composition establish favorable conditions for yeast overgrowth and inflammation [4].

[IMG: Graphic depicting the interplay of these factors]

While topical antifungal and anti-inflammatory agents form the cornerstone of treatment [5], research increasingly investigates whether dietary factors can mitigate or worsen the chronic seborrheic dermatitis process.

Western Diets and Skin Inflammation

Rising seborrheic dermatitis rates in industrialized nations have fueled suspicion of a dietary link. Studies demonstrate Western diets, high in saturated fats, refined carbs and processed foods, activate inflammatory pathways and disrupt gut microbiota balance [6] [7]. Such chronic low-grade inflammation and gut dysbiosis likely impact the skin.

Indeed, mouse models reveal Western diets impair skin barrier function, increase water loss, provoke immune activation, and alter lipid composition – changes associated with inflammatory skin diseases [8]. While studies directly analyzing Western dietary patterns in seborrheic dermatitis are lacking, the cascade of systemic effects provides biological plausibility.

Foods That May Worsen Seborrheic Dermatitis

Beyond overall dietary patterns, specific foods may also influence seborrheic dermatitis flares. However, definitive evidence is currently minimal, with most inferences extrapolated from acne research:

High Glycemic Index Foods: Similar to acne, high glycemic diets may activate pathways that increase sebum production and inflammation in seborrheic dermatitis [9].

Dairy: Milk consumption is linked to acne risk, likely due to hormone content. Some patients report dairy worsening seborrheic dermatitis as well, but large studies are unavailable [9].

Alcohol: Alcohol intake correlates with psoriasis flares. Though scarce in seborrheic dermatitis, one small study notes alcohol ingestion precedes flares in a subset of patients [10].

So while these dietary factors demonstrate plausible impact on seborrheic dermatitis, robust clinical evidence is currently lacking.

Elimination Diets: Should You Try One?

Given the dearth of rigorous studies on food triggers, some resort to trial-and-error elimination diets for seborrheic dermatitis flares. Dermatology organizations strongly caution against non-specific, unsupervised elimination diets due to risks of nutritional imbalance and growth issues in children [].

However, patient-directed elimination diets under medical guidance may offer clues in refractory cases. In one small study, 44% of atopic dermatitis patients experienced flares upon reintroducing eliminated foods like chocolate, cheese and coffee in hospital “challenges”, with subsequent avoidance for 3 months improving symptoms [10]. Whether such responses occur in seborrheic dermatitis merits further analysis.

Anti-Inflammatory Diets: A Preventive Approach

Rather than restrictive diets, emerging evidence advocates wholesome anti-inflammatory eating patterns emphasizing fruits, vegetables, nuts, fish, olive oil and whole grains to dampen chronic inflammatory conditions [11] [12] [].

Such diets reduce inflammatory biomarkers and nurture microbiome diversity – effects likely extending to skin health [12]. Though direct clinical trials are unavailable in seborrheic dermatitis specifically, their systemic and skin-barrier stabilizing effects suggest potential benefit.

The Gut-Skin Axis: An Evolving Target

The intricacy of gut and skin interactions – termed the “gut-skin axis” – represents an exciting frontier in inflammatory skin research [12].

Gut microbiota dysbiosis from poor diets resembles that found in skin conditions like acne, psoriasis and seborrheic dermatitis. Strategies modulating gut flora – via probiotics, prebiotics and diet – demonstrate early efficacy in skin disease outcomes [12]. Larger clinical trials targeting the gut-skin interplay may uncover key future treatments for stubborn seborrheic dermatitis.

The Big Picture: A Holistic Approach

Beyond diet, maintaining overall wellness is essential for managing seborrheic dermatitis effectively. This includes:

  • Skincare Routine:
    Gentle washing and moisturizing routines that do not irritate the skin can be helpful, as well as avoiding harsh chemicals and fragrances.

  • Stress Management:
    Since stress can exacerbate many skin conditions, including seborrheic dermatitis, adopting stress-relief techniques such as mindfulness, exercise, and adequate sleep are beneficial.

  • Medical Treatments:
    For many, topical antifungals remain a cornerstone for managing seborrheic dermatitis [5]. Always consult with a healthcare provider for guidance on treatment options.

A Word of Caution and Hope

It is important to recognize that while diet plays a crucial role in the management of seborrheic dermatitis, blanket restrictive diets can potentially lead to nutritional deficiencies and should be carefully considered alongside a healthcare practitioner’s input.

Moving forward with the hope offered by new research can illuminate more targeted dietary approaches to alleviate the discomfort seborrheic dermatitis brings.

Concluding Remarks

In the realm of seborrheic dermatitis management, emerging research sheds light on potential dietary influences.

  • Western diets, high in saturated fats and refined carbs, may exacerbate inflammation, impacting skin health.
  • While specific food triggers lack conclusive evidence, high glycemic foods, dairy, and alcohol could potentially worsen symptoms.

Patient-directed elimination diets, though cautioned against, might provide insights under medical supervision. On the preventive front, anti-inflammatory diets, rich in fruits, vegetables, nuts, fish, and olive oil, show promise in reducing inflammatory biomarkers.

The “gut-skin axis” reveals a promising frontier, with gut microbiota modulation showcasing early efficacy in skin diseases. Maintaining overall wellness is crucial, involving:

  • Gentle skincare
  • Stress management
  • Medical treatments when necessary

A word of caution accompanies the hope of new research. While diet plays a vital role, blanket restrictive diets should be approached cautiously to avoid nutritional deficiencies. As science progresses, personalized nutritional strategies may complement conventional treatments, offering targeted relief for persistent seborrheic dermatitis. Patience is key, and prioritizing evidence-based lifestyle measures remains integral in managing this chronic condition.


  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. Qian An, Meng Sun, Rui-Qun Qi, Li Zhang, Jin-Long Zhai, Yu-Xiao Hong, Bing Song, Hong-Duo Chen, Xing-Hua Gao "High Staphylococcus epidermidis Colonization and Impaired Permeability Barrier in Facial Seborrheic Dermatitis" Ovid Technologies (Wolters Kluwer Health) 130.14 (2017): 1662-1669.
  4. Angela Cristina Akel Mameri, Sueli Carneiro, Letícia Maria Akel Mameri, José Marcos Telles da Cunha, Marcia Ramos-E-Silva "History of Seborrheic Dermatitis: Conceptual and Clinico-Pathologic Evolution." Skinmed 15.3 (2019): 187-194. PubMed
  5. Luis J. Borda, Marina Perper, Jonette E. Keri "Treatment of seborrheic dermatitis: a comprehensive review" Informa UK Limited 30.2 (2018): 158-169.
  6. Julie M Hess, Charles B Stephensen, Mario Kratz, Bradley W Bolling "Exploring the Links between Diet and Inflammation: Dairy Foods as Case Studies" Elsevier BV 12 (2021): 1S-13S.
  7. G.M. Masud Parvez, Khokon Miah Akanda "Foods and Arthritis: An Overview" Elsevier (2019): 3-22.
  8. Kahbing Jasmine Tan, Satoshi Nakamizo, Hyeon-Cheol Lee-Okada, Reiko Sato, Zachary Chow, Saeko Nakajima, John E A Common, Kazuko Saeki, Takehiko Yokomizo, Florent Ginhoux, Kenji Kabashima "A Western Diet Alters Skin Ceramides and Compromises the Skin Barrier in Ears." The Journal of investigative dermatology 142.7 (2022): 2020-2023.e2. PubMed
  9. Saida Rezakoviu, Mirjana Pavliu, Marta Navratil, Lidija Poudaniu, Kristina uduueul, Kreuimir Kostoviu "The Impact of Diet on Common Skin Disorders" Lifescience Global 3.3 (2014): 149-155.
  10. Toshiaki Uenishi, Hisashi Sugiura, Masami Uehara "Role of Foods in Irregular Aggravation of Atopic Dermatitis" Wiley 30.2 (2014): 91-97.
  11. B. Watzl "Plant foods and inflammatory processes" Elsevier (2013): 359-378.
  12. Ximena Flores-Balderas, Mario Peña-Peña, Karla M Rada, Yamnia Q Alvarez-Alvarez, Carlos A Guzmán-Martín, José L Sánchez-Gloria, Fengyang Huang, Dayanara Ruiz-Ojeda, Sofía Morán-Ramos, Rashidi Springall, Fausto Sánchez-Muñoz "Beneficial Effects of Plant-Based Diets on Skin Health and Inflammatory Skin Diseases." Nutrients 15.13 (2023). 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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