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comparing psoriasis to seborrheic dermatitis, symptoms treatment options, and causes

Seborrheic Dermatitis vs. Psoriasis: Differences, Symptoms, Causes, & Treatment Options

Psoriasis and seborrheic dermatitis are both skin disorders that can affect the scalp and cause it to itch. While they may bear some similarities, it is essential to differentiate the two to ensure you receive the most appropriate treatment approach for your specific condition.

This article will explore the main differences between seborrheic dermatitis and psoriasis, including the symptoms and causes associated with both conditions and how you can effectively manage them.

Table of Contents:

Seborrheic Dermatitis Symptoms vs. Psoriasis Symptoms

psoriasis vs seborrheic dermatitis, comparing their symptoms


Before we compare the symptoms of both conditions, let's first define each one.

Seborrheic Dermatitis: This common inflammatory skin condition mainly affects areas of your skin rich in sebaceous glands, which are glands that secrete sebum, an oily substance. Affected areas commonly include the scalp, face, and body folds [1].

Psoriasis: Psoriasis is a condition where skin cells multiply much quicker than normal, leading to the development of scaly skin and patches on the knees, elbows, torso, and scalp [2].

Let's compare the common signs and symptoms of psoriasis and seborrheic dermatitis.

Seborrheic dermatitis symptoms include the following [1]:-

  • Flaky patches of skin on your scalp, beard, eyebrows, face, or body

  • Scalp appears powdery due to skin flakes and dandruff

  • Patches of skin with white or yellow greasy scales and crusts

  • Skin inflammation or rashes; these rashes usually have a red tone in those with lighter-colored skin and may appear as lighter or darker skin patches in those with darker-toned skin

  • Itchy patches


symptoms of seborrheic dermatitis


Typical symptoms of psoriasis include [3]:-

  • Skin patches covered in grey, white, or silvery scales

  • These patchy rashes may vary in color; pink and red tones are more common in lighter skin, while these rashes may look more purple or brown on darker skin

  • Itching, soreness, burning, and inflammation

  • Dry and scaly skin that may crack and bleed


symptoms of psoriasis


Although psoriasis and seborrheic dermatitis both involve scaly, red patches with itching, these conditions may be differentiated based on which part of the body they affect.

Psoriasis commonly affects your knees, elbows, and torso. So if you have scalp psoriasis, you may also notice mild psoriasis on these parts of your body. Meanwhile, seborrheic dermatitis typically affects areas of your body rich in sebaceous glands, like your scalp, eyebrows, ears, face, and central chest [4].

Other than the location of the affected skin, another way to differentiate both skin disorders is by looking at their appearance. In psoriasis, thick and white or silvery scales patches are typically present on lighter skin, while grey scales are more common on darker skin.

On the other hand, seborrheic dermatitis patches are usually associated with thinner, yellowish scales that appear greasy and oily.

Scalp psoriasis and seborrheic dermatitis of the scalp may present similarly and may be harder to differentiate if they do not affect other parts of your body. Your doctor will likely be able to pinpoint the cause of your scalp symptoms with proper examination.

Also, note that it is possible to have both conditions simultaneously.

Causes of Psoriasis vs. Seborrheic Dermatitis

Despite the high prevalence of seborrheic dermatitis, scientists are still unsure of its exact cause. However, they suggest that the Malassezia fungus may play a significant role in the development of this skin condition [5].

The Malassezia fungus usually resides on your skin without causing too much trouble. However, a sudden increase in its population may trigger a seborrheic dermatitis flare-up.

Additionally, the fact that seborrheic dermatitis responds relatively well to antifungal solutions and medications has led researchers to believe that the Malassezia fungus could be the main culprit [5].

The cause of psoriasis isn't well understood, either. Nonetheless, experts suggest that psoriasis may involve a problem with the immune system, where your body's immune cells mistakenly attack your skin cells. This autoimmune attack hurls your skin cell production into overdrive, causing them to multiply too quickly.

Apart from this, scientists also believe there is a genetic link to psoriasis, as specific genes could play a role in determining who gets the condition. Psoriasis may still occur in people with no family history of the condition. That said, those with parents or family members with the disorder are at a higher risk of experiencing it themselves [6].

Psoriasis vs. Seborrheic Dermatitis Treatment Options

topical treatment medication for psoriasis vs seborrheic dermatitis


Your treatment options for seborrheic dermatitis typically involve the use of antifungal medications. Of course, everyone responds differently to treatment, so it may take some experimentation to find something effective for you.

Your healthcare professional may recommend any of the following to treat seborrheic dermatitis [7]:-

  • Over-the-counter (OTC) anti-dandruff shampoos that contain selenium, zinc pyrithione, or coal tar for milder cases

  • Antifungal medicated shampoos, gels, creams, lotions, or foams that contain ketoconazole or ciclopirox

  • Topical corticosteroid medications, including creams, ointments, or shampoos containing hydrocortisone, fluocinolone, clobetasol, or desonide, for moderate to severe cases

  • Topical calcineurin inhibitors, such as pimecrolimus cream or tacrolimus ointment, to combat inflammation

  • Oral treatments containing an antifungal agent for severe, stubborn, or persistent cases of seborrheic dermatitis

Psoriasis treatment aims to remove scales and prevents skin cells from multiplying too quickly. Treatment can be classified under three main categories: Topical therapy, light therapy, and injected or oral medications.

According to the National Psoriasis Foundation, topical therapy is typically the first line of defense when treating psoriasis.

Topical therapy includes anti-inflammatory therapy such as steroid creams and topical calcineurin inhibitors. Synthetic forms of vitamin D, retinoids (a synthetic form of vitamin A), and salicylic acid are other medicated options for topical use [8]. Mild scalp psoriasis can be treated using OTC products that contain salicylic acid or coal tar.

Light therapy involves the exposure of your skin to regulated amounts of natural or artificial light under the care of a dermatologist [8].

Finally, if your psoriasis is severe and does not respond well to other therapy, your healthcare professional may prescribe oral or injected medications, such as oral steroids or retinoid pills.

Ensure you follow your healthcare professional's instructions on how to use or take your medication. You may also inquire about side effects to look out for.

Lifestyle Tips for Seborrheic Dermatitis

washing scalp regularly and other lifestyle tips for seborrheic dermatitis


Lifestyle measures for managing seborrheic dermatitis usually revolve around self-care and better hygiene.

  • Wash your scalp regularly. You may opt for OTC anti-dandruff shampoos that contain pyrithione zinc or selenium sulfide.

  • Avoid skin or hair care products that contain alcohol. Also, be cautious of hair products containing certain oils that may serve as food and fuel for the Malassezia fungus. Examples of such oils include coconut oil, olive oil, and jojoba oil, which can make your seborrheic dermatitis worse.

  • While your skin heals and recovers, avoid harsh styling products, such as hair gels and sprays.

  • If seborrheic dermatitis affects other parts of your body, wash the affected area regularly with a gentle cleanser.

  • You may regularly shampoo your beard or mustache with an anti-dandruff shampoo if those areas are affected by seborrheic dermatitis.

Natural Remedies for Seborrheic Dermatitis

Various alternative therapies may be used to naturally manage seborrheic dermatitis at home. Take note that these therapies may require extensive time and patience because you likely won't be observing overnight improvements or results.

And since every skin is unique, what works for others may not for you, and vice versa. So, expect some experimentation to find something effective and suitable for yourself.

Before applying any topical remedies to your skin, ensure you perform a skin patch test to ensure it is suitable for you.

The following are some natural therapies for managing seborrheic dermatitis.

Tea tree oil

tea tree oil for seborrheic dermatitis


Research has suggested that tea tree oil may help to combat any itch, redness, inflammation, and scaling resulting from seborrheic dermatitis [9].

If you purchase an undiluted tea tree oil product, ensure you dilute it in a safe carrier oil (such as squalane oil or MCT oil free from lauric acid) before application. Alternatively, you can purchase a shampoo containing tea tree oil.

Medical-grade raw honey

medical grade honey for seborrheic dermatitis


The impressive anti-inflammatory effects of honey may help combat the inflammation, soreness, itch, or irritation associated with dermatitis and may even improve hair loss [10].

Dilute medical-grade honey with water to create a soothing salve that's easier to work with. Apply the mixture onto the affected area, and then leave it on for a few hours or overnight before rinsing it off. You may wrap a bandage or gauze over it to prevent it from getting everywhere and creating a sticky mess.

Sea salt

sea salt as a natural remedy for seborrheic dermatitis


Though not concretely backed by research studies, there are anecdotal reports that sea salt therapy can effectively treat symptoms of seborrheic dermatitis.

If you'd like to try it, dissolve dead sea salt in warm water that's a comfortable temperature. Spray the concoction onto the affected area or massage it into your scalp, and then leave it on for a few hours or overnight before rinsing it off.

Apple cider vinegar

apple cider vinegar as a natural remedy for seborrheic dermatitis


Apple cider vinegar is known to have antifungal properties, though there is still a lack of concrete studies on its efficacy in treating seborrheic dermatitis [11].

Nonetheless, there is anecdotal evidence that apple cider vinegar may help improve symptoms of seborrheic dermatitis, probably by stifling the growth of the Malassezia fungus.

Apple cider vinegar should always be diluted before use to prevent skin irritation. Alternatively, you may purchase a product or shampoo containing apple cider vinegar.

The Calming Seborrheic Serum

dermazen calming seborrheic serum for seborrheic dermatitis


The Calming Seborrheic Serum contains a range of holistic ingredients designed to reduce skin flakes, soothe itching, and calm redness. This all-in-one serum helps provide relief for the face, scalp, and body by clearing away the Malassezia fungus, tackling its defensive biofilm barrier, and nourishing the skin.

Unlike the above remedies, this serum comes ready to use and can be comfortably left on for a couple of hours or even overnight. 

If you're not impressed with the results within 60 days, send us an email, and we'll process a full refund! 

Final Takeaway: Psoriasis and Seborrheic Dermatitis

While psoriasis and seborrheic dermatitis both involve the scaling and inflammation of the skin, they can be differentiated by the color, thickness, and overall appearance of the affected skin and where they present on the body.

In any case, seeking your healthcare professional's advice is the best way to differentiate between the two.

Recommended Product

Calming Seborrheic Serum

This all-in-one serum clears away malassezia fungus while soothing irritated skin. Provides relief for the scalp, face, and body.

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