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Connecting Seborrheic Dermatitis to Skin Care Products

Most of us have used or do currently use some type of skin care product. Be it a cream, a soap, or some sort of homemade concoction; skin care products are an essential part of almost all skin care regimens. Because of this it becomes crucial that we understand the impact these products have on our skin.

Possible Adverse Effects of Soap

One of the oldest and most common cleansers is soap. It’s history goes back thousands of years and it was said to have been created by the Greeks in 130-200 AD. Since then, soap has become a staple of modern life and people rely on it for daily cleaning their skin.

With such a long history, most people have come to think of soap as a harmless and highly important part of skin care. But this is not always the case. The truth is, soap can actually have a negative effect on your skin. This includes things such as [1]:

  • Skin barrier damage resulting in skin irritation, erythema, and itching
  • Skin pH changes resulting in skin dryness and irritation
  • Rapid water evaporation resulting in skin tightness and dryness
  • Contact with irritating ingredients resulting in contact dermatitis

So even though soap can be extremely useful, it’s potential flaws should definitely be evaluated. And this is especially true with many of the current soaps being sold today, which often have extensive ingredients lists and may use of overly harsh surfactants (such as sodium alkyl sulfate) [2].

Recent literature on the subjects suggests using more mild skin cleansers instead soap. With most emphasis being given to the more sensitive and sebum rich areas of skin.

Not All Skin Cleansers Are Created Equal

Even with products marketed as being gentle skin cleansers, there is still a large amount of inconsistencies. Some are clearly more gentle then others and finding the most suitable option can be quite challenging.

There are three core factors which have been shown to have the biggest influence in determining the likelihood of potential irritation. These principles are:

  • Surfactant ingredients – the specific cleansing agents used
  • Rinsability factor – how well the overall formulation rinses off
  • pH of cleansing agents – the pH level of the formulation as a whole

But in order to really put these factors to use, we would need adequate knowledge of chemistry and to actually test potential candidates (products). Unfortunately, most of us don’t have the knowledge nor the time for such endeavors.

Nonetheless, information on the subject is abundant and a lot testing has already been done for us by others. And there are a substantial amount of review papers that examine many of the most popular cleansing products in existence.

One of such papers published in 2008 compared 31 of the most popular cleansers available in India. In this paper, the Cetaphil cleansing lotion and Elovera moisturizing body wash showed the lowest scaling score and least irritation [3]. The paper also mentioned that individual variation was common and testing several options may hold the most value in the finding the one most suitable for you.

In addition to such papers, extensive online databases exist which review the various available formulations and can also serve as an excellent reference point. So, all you really need to do is examine the evidence and review the products you use.

Skin Creams, Lotions and Other Moisturizing Preparations

In addition to simple cleansing of the skin, a large amount of people make use of some sort of skin moisturizing/replenishing formulation. The options here are vast and the ingredient lists can often get extremely complex.

Nonetheless, many of the same principles that apply to cleansing agents also apply here. The formulation needs to be gentle, have a balanced pH level and should not adversely effect the normal skin barrier.

Once again, finding a moisturizer most suitable for you may require testing of various formulations and seeing which one proves most suitable.

Skin Care and Seborrheic Dermatitis

As per the above discussion, it becomes clear that the most common advice from the medical community is that skin care needs to be gentle. Skin care should not disrupt the natural pH level of the skin and should not negatively effect it’s natural moisture barrier.

Interestingly, many of the treatments that currently exist for seborrheic dermatitis do not appear to obied by these principles. Instead, the focus seems to typically be on improving their anti-fungal potential [4, 5]. And though anti-fungal solutions do typically produce rapid improvement of symptoms, their overall effects may need closer examination.

Perhaps the most benefit is to be obtained from finding a more balanced approach. Meaning treatment should not only produce a beneficial short term improvement, but the overall effect the treatment has on the stability of the skin and it’s ecosystem should be emphasized.

Section Summary

This section reviewed the importance of a gentle skin care regimen and it’s potential significance in the case of seborrheic dermatitis. Key points include:

  1. Soap is one of the most common skin cleansers and many people believe it to be harmless, but evidence exists that it may disrupt the skins natural barrier function and cause adverse effects
  2. Excessive use of strong cleansers should generally be avoided, especially in the case of more sensitive and sebum rich areas of skin
  3. The cleansing agent used, how easy the cleanser rinses off and the pH of the formulation are some of the most important factors to consider
  4. An abundance of literature exists which examines most popular products, focus needs to be made on finding one that matches your skin type
  5. Moisturizing and anti-aging products can also produce unwanted negative effects and their effect on skin stability should also be considered
  6. Most seborrheic dermatitis treatments focus on antifungal potential and not necessarily the impact they may be having on the skin’s natural barrier
  7. Finding a balanced approach which not emphasizes quick results, but also considers the long term implications is likely to prove most beneficial


  1. K P Ananthapadmanabhan, David J Moore, Kumar Subramanyan, Manoj Misra, F Meyer "Cleansing without compromise: the impact of cleansers on the skin barrier and the technology of mild cleansing." Dermatologic therapy 17 Suppl 1 (2004): 16-25. PubMed
  2. M Kotani, Y Masamoto, M Watanabe "An alternative study of the skin irritant effect of an homologous series of surfactants." Toxicology in vitro : an international journal published in association with BIBRA 8.2 (2010): 229-33. PubMed
  3. C Lakshmi, C R Srinivas, C V Anand, A C Mathew "Irritancy ranking of 31 cleansers in the Indian market in a 24-h patch test." International journal of cosmetic science 30.4 (2008): 277-83. PubMed
  4. Aditya K Gupta, Karyn Nicol, Roma Batra "Role of antifungal agents in the treatment of seborrheic dermatitis." American journal of clinical dermatology 5.6 (2005): 417-22. PubMed
  5. Ralph M Trufceb "Shampoos: ingredients, efficacy and adverse effects." Journal der Deutschen Dermatologischen Gesellschaft = Journal of the German Society of Dermatology : JDDG 5.5 (2007): 356-65. 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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