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Using Clotrimazole for Seborrheic Dermatitis: A Research Summary

Book Extract

This article is an extract from: Seborrheic Dermatitis - The Owner's Manual; a book dedicated to understanding seborrheic dermatitis. See the book overview page for more information.

Seborrheic dermatitis is a common skin condition that primarily affects the scalp, resulting in dandruff, red skin, and itchiness. One of the treatment options for this condition involves the use of antifungal agents, such as clotrimazole. This article aims to provide a comprehensive review of the use of clotrimazole in treating seborrheic dermatitis.

Understanding Seborrheic Dermatitis

Seborrheic dermatitis is characterized by flaking, scaling, inflammation, and itching [1]. The condition is believed to be influenced by factors such as sebaceous gland activity, Malassezia yeast colonization, and immunologic dysregulation [2].

The Malassezia genus has been found to play a significant role in the pathogenesis of seborrheic dermatitis [3]. In fact, alterations in the skin microbiome have been observed in individuals with this condition, including an increased M. restricta/M. globosa ratio and a decreased Cutibacterium/Staphylococcus ratio [4].

Treatment options for seborrheic dermatitis are diverse and include topical antifungal and anti-inflammatory agents [5] [6] [7], homoeopathic medicine [8], and even traditional Chinese medicine [9].

Clotrimazole: An Overview

Clotrimazole is an antifungal agent that has been found to inhibit the growth of various microorganisms, including Aspergillus spp. and Enterobacter spp. [10]. It has also demonstrated effectiveness against Trichophyton mentagrophytes [11], and has been used to treat oral lichen planus, a chronic inflammatory disorder of the mucous membranes [12].

However, it’s important to note that prolonged use of topical clotrimazole can lead to side effects such as the development of secondary candidiasis and atrophy of the oral mucosa [13]. Additionally, some patients have shown positive patch-test reactions to clotrimazole, indicating potential allergic reactions [14].

Researchers have also explored various delivery systems for clotrimazole to enhance its effectiveness in treating fungal infections [15] [16] []. These include bioadhesive gels, transdermal sprays, cubosomes, and nanoemulsions.

Clotrimazole in Treating Seborrheic Dermatitis

Clotrimazole is commonly used in the treatment of seborrheic dermatitis due to its antifungal properties against Malassezia furfur, the fungus responsible for the condition. Studies have shown that clotrimazole 1% cream is effective in treating seborrheic dermatitis, with studies suggesting a response rate of 50% [17].

However, there have been cases of clotrimazole-resistant Malassezia furfur, necessitating alternative treatments. Aloe vera extract has been found to have antimicrobial activity against clotrimazole-resistant Malassezia furfur [18]. Emu oil has also shown promise due to its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties [19].

Clotrimazole’s antifungal activity against Malassezia pachydermatis has been studied extensively [20] [18] [21]. These studies suggest that clotrimazole can be an effective treatment for seborrheic dermatitis caused by various Malassezia species, including resistant strains.

However, when compared to other azoles like ketoconazole and itraconazole, clotrimazole’s potency against Malassezia appears to be inferior [22].

Clotrimazole versus Ketoconazole - usage frequency in literature

Clotrimazole Safety Profile

Clotrimazole has been used since 1969 and is considered safe for topical use [23]. In one study of 699 patients treated with clotrimazole, only 2.7% experienced side effects [24]. It is included in the World Health Organization’s List of Essential Medicines due to its favorable safety profile [23].

While generally well-tolerated, potential side effects include:

  • Skin irritation
  • Rash
  • Allergic reactions in some individuals [14, 25]

Other Treatment Options

While clotrimazole can be useful, research shows there are several other conventional and natural alternatives for treating seborrheic dermatitis:

Conventional Medical Options

Newer topical antifungal agents like ketoconazole tend to show higher efficacy compared to clotrimazole [26]. Additional pharmaceutical options like zinc pyrithione, coal tar, salicylic acid, and selenium sulfide also have well-documented anti-inflammatory and antifungal properties that can help control seborrheic dermatitis symptoms.

For severe cases unresponsive to topical treatment, phototherapy and short-term mild corticosteroid use may be considered under medical guidance. However, potential side effects like skin thinning should be weighed against benefits.

Natural and Lifestyle Approaches

Certain natural ingredients have shown promise in research for seborrheic dermatitis when applied topically, including aloe vera, tea tree oil, and honey. Their anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial effects may help reduce symptoms.

Additionally, preliminary research suggests probiotics may modulate gut health and immunity in ways that improve seborrheic dermatitis. Stress management techniques and dietary modifications like limiting inflammatory foods are also suggested to complement medical treatment.

A multifaceted approach combining conventional and natural options tailored to the individual often provides optimal management of seborrheic dermatitis.

The Bottom Line

Clotrimazole is an affordable, accessible antifungal agent that provides moderate relief of seborrheic dermatitis symptoms in many patients. While generally safe and effective for short-term use, combination therapy or newer antifungals like ketoconazole may be better options for resistant, chronic or severe seborrheic dermatitis. Regular skin care and monitoring for side effects is recommended with long-term clotrimazole cream application.

Book Extract

This article is an extract from: Seborrheic Dermatitis - The Owner's Manual; a book dedicated to understanding seborrheic dermatitis. See the book overview page for more information.


  1. uaIlko Bakardzhiev "New Insights into the Etiopathogenesis of Seborrheic Dermatitis" Symbiosis Group 4.1 (2017): 1-5.
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  3. Rong Tao, Ruoyu Li, Zhe Wan, Yan Wu, Ruojun Wang "Skin microbiome signatures associated with psoriasis and seborrheic dermatitis" Wiley 31.7 (2022): 1116-1118.
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  17. Mohamad Goldust, Elham Rezaee, Shahin Rouhani "Double blind study of sertaconazole 2% cream vs. clotrimazole 1% cream in treatment of seborrheic dermatitis." Annals of parasitology 59.1 (2013): 25-9. PubMed
  18. Leila Fozouni, Fatemeh Taghizadeh, Elahe Kiaei "Anti-Microbial Effect of Aloe vera Extract on Clotrimazole-Resistant Malassezia Furfur Strains Isolated From Patients with Seborrheic Dermatitis in the City of Sari" Briefland In Press.In Press (2018).
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  26. Sundeep Chowdhry "Topical Antifungals used for Treatment of Seborrheic Dermatitis" MedCrave Group, LLC 4.1 (2018).
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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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