Seborrheic Dermatitis Diet & Nutrition: What to Eat and Avoid (Including Supplements)
Seborrheic dermatitis is classified as a chronic inflammatory skin disease by experts. This skin condition, along with its cousin, dandruff, affects around half of the adult population. Since in many ways, we are what we eat, you might be wondering what would a seborrheic dermatitis diet look like?
While we recommend checking with a nutrition expert before making major changes to your food and supplement choices, we've compiled the latest research connecting diet and seborrheic dermatitis.
Table of Contents
Understanding Seborrheic Dermatitis
If you've had a fair share of experience with this pesky skin ailment, you may be well-acquainted with some of its hallmark symptoms.
Some seborrheic dermatitis symptoms include skin inflammation, flaking, scaling, and itching, and in severe cases, people may also experience a resulting infection or hair loss. This itch, scaling, and redness usually affect regions of your body that are rich in sebaceous glands, such as your scalp, face, and chest [source].
Understandably, treating and managing seborrheic dermatitis can be frustrating. Perhaps in your case, medications provide only temporary relief. If that's your experience, identifying modifiable lifestyle factors and adopting a more holistic approach may give you some leverage in tackling moody skin.
Possible triggers include stress, hormonal changes, chemicals in cleaning and skincare products, or even shifts in the weather. But among all of these, your diet claims one of the top spots as a factor that may aggravate (or alleviate) your symptoms.
One of the biggest lifestyle levers you can pull to calm your skin is nutrition. So, we'll explore how specific dietary patterns can affect your skin condition. On top of that, this article will also cover the different types of foods to avoid as well as some supplements that may help.
Disclaimer: The information provided in this article is not medical advice and should not substitute the advice given to you by your doctor or healthcare professional. We advise you to seek professional medical advice from a healthcare provider before making any significant changes to your diet or lifestyle.
The Relationship Between Skin, Inflammation, and Dietary Patterns
Seborrheic dermatitis, eczema, dandruff, and psoriasis are known by experts as “chronic inflammatory skin conditions.” Systemic (aka bodily) inflammation seems to be closely tied to the frequency and severity of skin symptoms.
There also seems to be a connection between seborrheic dermatitis and metabolic syndrome. Metabolic syndrome is a cluster of conditions (including excess weight, chronic stress, and lack of exercise) that increase the risk of heart disease, stroke, and diabetes. Multiple studies show a direct connection and possible causation between metabolic syndrome and chronic inflammation [source A] [source B].
In other words, if you are experiencing chronic inflammation from stress, excess weight, and processed foods, you will likely see that inflammation reflected in your skin through flare-ups and break-outs. On the other hand, reducing inflammation and reversing metabolic syndrome could lead to fewer flare-ups and calmer skin.
At this point, there aren’t many studies observing the direct role that diet plays with seborrheic dermatitis and Malassezia-based skin conditions. This is partly because most studies are funded by pharmaceutical companies, and none are keen on researching the efficacy of organic foods or a low-inflammation diet.
In this article, we will focus on reducing inflammation and improving overall skin health through diet, while adding the limited research available related specifically to seborrheic dermatitis.
If you don’t have seborrheic dermatitis, dandruff, or a Malassezia-based skin condition, the insights in this article will still prove valuable. Skin disorders like psoriasis, eczema, and rosacea also seem to be closely connected to systemic inflammation. Reducing inflammation, increasing micronutrients, and removing problematic foods will very likely lead to more peaceful skin and peace of mind.
Peaceful Skin Requires Experimenting
Every body is unique. Only you will be able to identify which foods and supplements resonate with your body and which ones are not the right fit. We do our best to recommend foods that are safe and nourishing for most people. However, some of these foods might not work for you, based on intolerances, genetics, or dietary preference.
Imagine this experimentation as a joyful process of self-care. Instead of feeling overwhelmed by the options, see it as cultivating your relationship with your body. Like any relationship, the goal is to learn more about each other over time. Your spirit was not given a user manual when you inhabited your body. Mastering the art of self-love will require experimentation, reflection, and listening within.
The wisdom we share here is based on research with links to studies, personal experiences, and insights from others in the malassezia and Dermazen community. We encourage you to conduct your own research, listen to your body, and make changes slowly, especially if you feel concerned about the consequences.
Self-care begins by checking in with yourself before anyone else. While you are the author of your health, we are honored to offer inspiration, insight, and support along the way.
Nutritional Supplements for Seborrheic Dermatitis
Your body requires vitamins, minerals, amino acids, and hormones to thrive. When these building blocks are missing, trouble arises in the form of low energy, chronic inflammation, disease, irritated skin, and more. A hard truth to face is most of us need to supplement select nutrients in order to live optimally. Modern soil has been depleted due to overuse and monoculture practices. Fortunately, supplements exist to help make up the difference.
It is important to recognize that supplements are meant to supplement a healthy lifestyle, not replace it. Other factors, such as sleep, diet, and exercise are core pillars to keeping in good health.
Medical Reminder: Once again, the information below is not medical advice. We are not claiming that any of these nutrients can cure or treat any specific condition or symptom. We are not advising you to add them into your routine without consulting a medical or nutrition professional. The information below is meant to share promising research and potential benefits to be gained from these nutrients.
That being said, here are eight nutrients worth considering, based on their likelihood to improve skin health and support lower levels of inflammation.
Vitamin D3 +K2
Vitamin D3 is produced internally when your skin is exposed to sunlight. Unfortunately, most people are deficient due to prolonged periods spent indoors. This deficiency seems to affect people with seborrheic dermatitis more than others. In 2016, one study discovered that oral supplementation of vitamin D significantly reduced the occurrence of seborrheic dermatitis flare-ups if participants were deficient. A 2021 study found that vitamin D deficiencies are much more common in people with seborrheic dermatitis than symptom-free individuals. Here is one more study showing the same correlation between vitamin D deficiency and seborrheic dermatitis.
If you search for “vitamin D” in the r/SebDerm subreddit, you will find dozens of people who found significant improvement from increasing their vitamin D levels. However, not everyone experiences a change in their symptoms. The good news is even if your skin doesn’t improve directly, vitamin D3 still has amazing benefits for the rest of your body. Beyond managing skin cell replication and the maintenance of the skin barrier (as shown here), vitamin D is also essential for an elevated mood, strong immunity, healthy bone development, muscle function, sleep, cognitive health, and more.
The Importance of K2: If you are going to supplement with vitamin D3, especially at higher levels, then it’s important to also consume vitamin K2. This is because vitamin D increases the absorption of calcium, while K2 moves the calcium out of your arteries and into your bones and teeth where it belongs. Based on our research, there is no evidence that it is possible to overdose on vitamin D if you are simultaneously consuming adequate levels of K2. Vitamin D overdoses only seem to occur in the absence of K2.
For legal reasons, we will not advise you to megadose D3. However, there are many accounts of people consuming large doses of D3 without side effects. In a 2014 study, researchers gave patients over 300,000 IU of D3 in one sitting. Vitamin D is fat soluble, so gets stored in your fat cells and can be used overtime - unlike water soluble vitamins like C and B which need to be taken in small, regular doses (otherwise your body will urinate the excess).
Personal Story: Dermazen co-founder, Austin, was taking 5,000 IU of D3 daily for over a year with no noticeable improvement to his skin. When he learned about megadosing, he increased his D3 consumption to 50,000 IU a day for a week (with 500 micrograms of K2). Only then did he see his symptoms disappear without any topical treatment. He lowered his dose to 20,000 IU/day (still considered to be a megadose) for several months and his skin remained peaceful and symptom-free until he gradually fell out of the habit of taking D3 daily.
Your body cannot synthesize zinc on its own. And hence, you’ll need to obtain this essential nutrient from food and supplements. Not only is this mineral a key player in metabolism, nerve function, and digestion, but it is also fundamental to your skin’s health. In fact, a 2019 study demonstrated that participants with seborrheic dermatitis had significantly lower levels of zinc in their bodies compared to those with healthy, normal skin. This moody skin antidote possesses anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, and antioxidant properties that have shown to foster better skin healing and recovery. If your skin is constantly acting up, supplementing with 15–30 mg of zinc daily (especially with 1-2mg of copper) may help soothe and calm your outermost layer.
MSM is a sulfur-containing compound naturally present in plants and humans. It can also be consumed as a dietary supplement commonly used to reduce inflammatory conditions such as osteoarthritis. Additionally, two studies in 2020 and 2015 discovered that MSM supplementation significantly improved skin elasticity, hydration, firmness, and tone, in addition to reducing facial wrinkles. You can’t fully turn back the clock, but MSM can slow the hands of time by enhancing skin barrier strength, increasing collagen production, and protecting cells in the outer layers of your skin. Research suggests a dose of 1g per day is enough to make a visual difference on the skin’s appearance.
Vitamin E is another fat-soluble vitamin highly acclaimed for its potent antioxidant effects. Beyond supporting your vision, brain, lungs, heart, and liver, this nutrient may also safeguard your skin from the effects of UV rays, aging, and inflammation. In addition to that, research has suggested a possible link between vitamin E deficiency and the development of seborrheic dermatitis. Hence, if you always find yourself in a tug-of-war with flare-ups and inflammation, it might be worth supplementing with vitamin E at doses ranging from 100mg to 500mg per day.
Biotin is typically marketed as a supplement for stronger nails, luscious locks, and flawless skin, and it's no wonder why. In 2021, one study revealed that biotin supplementation successfully reduced fine lines, wrinkles, and skin roughness while enhancing participants' skin texture and appearance. Drawing from those results, researchers hypothesized that biotin supplements might improve blood flow and nutrient delivery to the skin, elevating its overall appearance, health, and complexion. Doses of around 30mcg (micrograms, not milligrams) daily may help you achieve brighter, happier skin, though there’s no widely accepted dosing regimen as of yet.
Vitamin C is an essential water-soluble vitamin that plays a crucial role in the development and repair of your tissues. And due to its impressive antioxidant effects, vitamin C can fortify your heart’s health, bolster your immune system’s function, and help prevent gout attacks. Two studies in 2015 and 2016 investigated the effects of supplements containing vitamin C on the skin. Based on the results, these supplements significantly improved skin hydration, elasticity, and smoothness in participants. If you’d like to reap the numerous health benefits of vitamin C, 75-90mg per day should suffice, though research suggests many adults can take up to 2000mg a day.
Bacteria often get a bad rep, but some strains play an important role in human health. Though probiotics are widely-praised for their gut health benefits, these supplements may also help reduce skin ailments. For instance, one study found that participants who consumed probiotics daily improved their scalp dandruff and seborrhea symptoms while reducing scalp inflammation. As a result, researchers concluded that probiotics help restore the balanced ecosystem of microorganisms residing on your scalp. Other research shows probiotics could enhance skin barrier and immune function. Dosing of probiotics varies rapidly based on the numbers of species present, the amount of colony forming units (CFU), and overall strength of the strains. While we don’t have an affiliation with them, Just Thrive’s Probiotic is the first choice for many of Dermazen’s team members due to its ability to survive past stomach acid. However, you might need to experiment with a few types of probiotics to find the best choice for your body. You can learn more about probiotics in our article, Probiotics for Dandruff and Seborrheic Dermatitis: Do they work?
This natural substance serves as a cushion and lubricant in your eyes and joints. Currently, the claimed benefits of supplemental hyaluronic acid (HA) are vast—from relieving dry eyes to battling acid reflux symptoms and joint pain. However, the effects of HA on the skin should not be ignored. In 2017, a study found that oral supplementation of HA increased skin hydration and elasticity and reduced skin roughness and wrinkle depth. Nicknamed ‘Nature’s Moisturizer,’ HA plays a vital role in preserving tissue hydration. It also facilitates the transport of nutrients and ions to the outermost layer of the skin, owing to its powerful water-retaining properties. Most research recommends a daily dosage of around 100-200mg of HA for adults.
Inflammatory Foods to Avoid
Not all food is created equally. If the key to peaceful skin is reducing inflammation (while increasing nutrients), let’s start by exploring the most inflammatory foods which could be standing between you and calmer skin.
Remember, every body is unique. Some of these foods might be tolerable for you. The only way to know which foods are best for you is to experiment.
Once again, this is not nutritional or medical advice. We’re not advising you to give up any of these foods. The best we can do is highlight foods that tend to cause inflammation and skin flare-ups for most people.
These might be the sneakiest of the Inflammatory Six because they sound harmless and they are hidden in plain sight everywhere. These inflammatory lipids include canola oil (also known as rapeseed oil), vegetable oil, safflower oil, soybean oil, and corn oil. These are highly processed and denatured oils that are cheap to produce, but harmful to consume for a number of reasons.
First, they are full of omega-6 fatty acids. Most bodies function best with a ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 close to 4:1. This is what we observe in hunter-gatherers who show lower levels of inflammation. While the average Westerner has a ratio closer to 16:1. There are several studies showing an increase in omega-6 consumption leads to increased inflammation [source] [source].
Seed oils are also harmful because they oxidize quickly when exposed to heat. When these oils are heated, they create two harmful substances–trans fats and lipid peroxides–which have been shown to increase rates of type 2 diabetes and heart disease, damage DNA, and accelerate aging. These oils are also full of harmful additives like BHT, BHA, and TBHQ have hormone-disrupting, carcinogenic, and immune-stunting effects. TBHQ even seems to increase food allergies [source], which can then inflame the skin even more.
Safer Alternatives: Fortunately, there are plenty of healthier options available. Instead of cooking with inflammatory vegetable or canola oil, you can reach for coconut oil, avocado oil, ghee, and sesame oil. Olive oil is fine for low temperatures (like salad dressings) but it oxidizes quickly when heated, so it’s not ideal for cooking.
This sweet culprit has also snuck its way into almost all processed foods. You’ll find added sugar in sauces, breads, granola bars, chips, yogurt, salad dressing, and many other daily staples in most Western diets.
A systematic review from 2018 showed people who consume more sugar in their diets have more inflammatory markers in their blood, specifically C-reactive protein [source]. Excess sugar can also combine with proteins and fats to create Advanced Glycation End Products (AGEs) which can cause inflammation. Too much sugar can also lead to insulin resistance and weight gain, both of which have been shown to raise inflammation.
But sugar alone isn’t a villain. Your body needs glucose to function. The problem is most people consume more sugar than they realize. The goal is to become aware of how much sugar you’re getting on a daily basis and gradually reduce your intake.
Safer Alternatives: You can still enjoy sweet foods. It’s a good idea to choose sweeteners lower on the glycemic index (which measures how much a particular food will likely spike your blood sugar). Raw honey and organic maple syrup have a lower glycemic index than table sugar (also known as sucrose). Coconut sugar is even lower on the glycemic index. You can also lower your sugar consumption by reaching for zero-sugar sweeteners like stevia, xylitol, erythritol, and monk fruit powder. We don’t recommend artificial sweeteners like sucralose or aspartame (popularly used in diet sodas and “sugar-free” foods) because they have been shown to destroy healthy gut bacteria and can lead to long-term weight gain, chronic headaches, and more.
Even if you aren’t “gluten intolerant,” this protein could be causing more harm than you realize. Gliadin (a by-product of gluten) has been shown to damage the intestinal lining of anyone who consumes it–not just those with celiac disease–according to a study published in 2015 [source] and research conducted by Dr. Tom O’Bryan. When your intestinal tract is damaged, food and waste particles slip into your bloodstream more easily. This creates chronic inflammation.
Search for “gluten” in the r/SebDerm subreddit and you’ll find dozens of people who have cleared or reduced their seborrheic dermatitis symptoms after eliminating gluten from their diets. This isn’t a miracle cure for everyone, but if your skin is chronically inflamed, you might want to consider avoiding gluten.
The books Wheat Belly and Grain Brain also offer a compelling look at why gluten and wheat aren’t doing us any favors. From brain fog and weight gain to digestive distress, modern unfermented wheat can cause a cascade of side effects–even for folks without an official allergy.
Safer Alternatives: Gluten-free options have improved significantly over the past few decades. It’s much easier to avoid wheat than it was 20 years ago. The key is to remember that gluten-free doesn’t mean “healthy.” Gluten-free cookies loaded with sugar and seed oils can still cause inflammation. But when you need a treat (or a pizza), there are plenty of wheat-free options. When possible, reach for foods that are naturally gluten-free like white rice, potatoes, yams, cassava flour, etc.
Artificial Trans Fats
Fried food is delicious. The combination of a crispy crunch with satiating fat is hard to resist. Unfortunately, the artificial trans fats in most fried foods are a major source of inflammation. Natural trans fats found in unprocessed animal products don’t seem to cause harm [source] [source]. The real danger occurs when vegetable oils are chemically altered through heat, hydrogenation, or other additives.
Beyond fried food, keep an eye out for hydrogenated oils in the ingredients of your groceries. Food manufacturers will hydrogenate oils (by adding hydrogen to the fatty acids) to make them solid at room temperatures. However, this process turns the oils into trans fats. Trans fats have shown to damage heart health [source] [source], alter insulin sensitivity [source], damage blood vessels [source], and more.
Safer Alternatives: Replace margarine and hydrogenated cooking oils with coconut oil, avocado oil, ghee, and grass-fed butter. When eating outside your home, avoid fried food. Consider investing in an air fryer for your home if you crave the texture of fried food. An air fryer will allow you to enjoy that crispy crunch and satiating fat with a healthier oil of your choice.
Believe it or not, alcohol isn’t your friend. Sure, it can lighten the mood and take the edge off temporarily. But it can also spike inflammation [source], damage your gut lining [source], and feed harmful bacteria in your microbiome [source] - along with several other side effects.
When it comes to skin health, alcohol tends to dehydrate skin cells and accelerate the aging process. It can also reduce elasticity, increase the size of pores, and make your skin look puffy.
Once again, everybody will tolerate alcohol differently. For some, the effects are minimal and the occasional drink won’t flare up their skin. For others, even half a drink can cause an outbreak the next day. At the very least, it’s a good idea to be mindful of the consequences and consider healthier forms of relaxation.
Safer Alternatives: Many folks have found CBD - with or without THC - or herbs like kava to be more holistic paths to relax and improve their mood. If your main goal is to relax after a long day, you could also try a calming elixir invented by one of Dermazen’s founders by combining magnesium powder, glycine, and GABA into warm water or tea (following the serving size of each ingredient). It’s remarkably calming.
Not all animal products are harmful. But it’s hard to deny the link between consuming large amounts of processed meat and higher levels of inflammation. Processed meat has been treated in some way to flavor or preserve it through salting, curing, fermenting, and smoking. This includes bacon, sausages, hot dogs, deli meat, and other cured meats like salami. Most of the harm comes from the nitrates, nitrites, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PHAs), heterocyclic amines (HCAs), and chemicals added to the meat during the manufacturing process.
Many of these additives are known for being carcinogenic or cancer-causing. Processed meat also tends to have a much higher concentration of omega-6 fat over the healthier omega-3. Similar to the seed oils listed earlier, this creates elevated levels of inflammation in the body and can lead to inflamed skin.
Safer Alternatives: If you’re going to consume animal products, it’s worth investing in grass-fed, free-range, wild-caught, and/or pasture-raised meat, fish, and eggs. These are much higher in omega-3 fatty acids, vitamins, minerals, amino acids, and other nutrients. When it comes to animal products, it’s best to choose quality over quantity. For example, you might choose to eat higher-quality animal products at home, while ordering more plant-based meals when dining out, since meat quality tends to be lower at restaurants. Of course, you might also consider a plant-based lifestyle at home too. Mother Nature is full of nutritious plants and fungi that taste delicious without all the chemicals found in processed meat.
Foods Safe for Most People with Seborrheic Dermatitis
Here you'll find a list of carbs, fats, and proteins that are known to promote lower levels of inflammation. Some of them - like fruits and fatty fish - have the added benefit of being extra nourishing for your skin.
This is not a complete list. There are plenty of foods not listed here, and we encourage you to continue your own research and exploration.
The right foods for you will differ based on your genetics, microbiome, goals, and lifestyle.
While we cannot offer nutritional advice for any specific individual, the foods below are a strong foundation to start experimenting with.
*A study from 2019 showed that an increase in fruit consumption was associated with a reduction in seborrheic dermatitis symptoms.
Topical Remedies for Seborrheic Dermatitis
What you consume can affect your skin's health from the inside out, but that doesn't mean you have to rely solely on your diet to facilitate skin recovery. Treatment applied directly to your skin can help soothe irritation by reducing inflammation, itching, and flaking. But before you use any of these suggestions, perform a skin patch test to check if you're allergic to them.
Here are some topical remedies (other than medicated creams) that may help improve your skin's condition and enhance skin healing.
Calming Seborrheic Serum
Our own Calming Seborrheic Serum consists of a blend of holistic ingredients that work together to combat itching, redness, flaking, and flareups without fueling the growth of the malassezia fungus. Thanks to a unique three-step process, this serum helps disrupt the fungal biofilm and clears away topical yeast, while nourishing and hydrating the skin. It works great for the scalp, face, chest, and ears.
Apple Cider Vinegar
Research has suggested that apple cider vinegar (ACV) can help combat the growth of Malassezia on the scalp, restore the optimal pH of the skin, and enhance its barrier function, though these benefits have yet to be confirmed concretely [source, source]. Nonetheless, many people have reported improvement of symptoms with the use of this home remedy. It is essential that you dilute ACV with water before applying it to your skin to reduce the risk of skin irritation or chemical burns.
If you don't mind the sticky mess, manuka honey may help with treating seborrheic dermatitis symptoms. Due to its potent anti-inflammatory properties, manuka honey may help with alleviating the itch and redness associated with inflammatory skin conditions [source]. If you're looking to take this natural remedy on a test drive, opt for medical-grade honey. You can apply it directly to the affected area or dilute it before using it on your scalp since honey has a sticky and thick texture. A word caution with this remedy: Beware of ants!
Based on research findings, bathing in dead sea salt solution may help improve skin barrier function, facilitate better skin hydration, and reduce skin irritation and inflammation [source]. The best results have been observed from the use of dead sea salt solution, likely due to its rich mineral content. To utilize this natural remedy, dissolve sea salt in warm water before massaging it into the affected region. How much sea salt to use will be left to your own discretion, but try to experiment with lower salt concentrations first before diving all in.
Final Takeaway: The Seborrheic Dermatitis Diet
It's great to have achievable goals that will set your feet in the right direction. While these goals should be attainable, they don't have to be overly ambitious, especially when it comes to making alterations in your diet. Hence, there's no need to transform your diet drastically within a short timeframe. Small changes are easier to adopt and can make a difference.
Gradually cut down on inflammatory foods and dedicate some time and effort to ensuring your meals are nutritionally dense and balanced. If you wish, you may also seek the advice of a healthcare professional to discuss which supplements may help with giving your moody skin a much-needed boost.
Of course, don't expect overnight results. You may not get what you want immediately, but practicing a healthy and balanced diet will benefit your body inside and out. And your skin will thank you in the long run!