Seborrheic dermatitis (SD) is caused by an overproduction of sebum, overgrowth of Malassezia yeast, and an abnormal immune response to Malassezia. Natural topical treatment with essential oils may help combat SD. However, essential oils need to be diluted in carrier oils to prevent skin irritation.
Carrier oils play a very important role. They help to moisturize the skin and reduce inflammation. However, most oils can worsen seborrheic dermatitis by encouraging Malassezia growth or causing more inflammation. Only a few oils are considered safe when you have SD.
Let’s take a deep dive:
What is a carrier oil?
A carrier oil is an oil that helps to dilute essential oils before they are applied to the skin. This is important because it essential oils are potent compounds that can irritate the skin and cause allergic reactions when applied undiluted. Carrier oils don’t alter an essential oil’s effects on your skin, making them a valuable tool in any skincare routine.
What are the best carrier oils for seborrheic dermatitis?
Carrier oils are unscented, natural oils which help dilute essential oils so that they can be applied to skin safely. They also help replenish lost moisture, soothe the skin, reduce inflammation and promote healing.
The carrier oil that you choose should help improve redness, itching and scaling without disrupting the natural balance of bacteria, yeast and sebum on your skin – that’s important if you want to avoid seborrheic dermatitis flare-ups.
Some organic oils like olive oil, rosehip oil and coconut oil actually contain long chain fatty acids that feed Malassezia while others are not easily absorbed and will sit on your skin, causing clogged pores and irritation.
Here are some of the best carrier oils that are actually safe to use when you have seborrheic dermatitis:
A great option is MCT oil. This oil is made up of medium chain fatty acids, which have been shown to be effective in treating seborrheic dermatitis due to its antifungal, antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties.
Most MCT oil don’t contain lauric acid and this is important because lauric acid, found in coconut oil from which some MCT oil is derived, can feed Malassezia.
Further reading: MCT oil without lauric acid for seborrheic dermatitis
Squalane oil is another good choice for people with this condition. It’s a light, non-greasy oil that helps restore the natural balance of lipids on the skin. In fact, squalane is the oil that most resembles our natural sebum, making it an excellent emollient.
Squalane oil is a hydrocarbon, similiar to mineral oil, without fatty acids so it will never feed Malassezia.
You can take a deep dive into squalane oil for seborrheic dermatitis here.
Jojoba oil is a liquid wax that is extracted from the jojoba plant. Jojoba oil is naturally high in vitamin E, vitamin C, and zinc, which helps to heal skin. The oil may also be effective in enhancing the absorption of topical drugs into the skin.
Unlike other plant oils, jojoba oil is light-weight, consisting mainly of long-chain fatty acids. It’s easily absorbed by the skin.
The high content of wax esters make jojoba an ideal option for skin care products with altered barriers, such as seborrheic dermatitis, eczematous dermatitis, or acne.
Jojoba oil resembles our natural sebum and may balance sebum production. It is also anti-inflammatory.
More importantly, jojoba oil has relatively low oleic acid content, which means at the very least it doesn’t encourage Malassezia growth.
There is a lack of evidence for jojoba oil’s benefits in SD but it’s safe enough to use as a carrier oil.
Further reading: Is jojoba oil good for seborrheic dermatitis?
I’ve listed mineral oil as it’s a ‘safe’ oil to use in SD. However, I don’t recommend using mineral oil as a carrier oil for essential oils. In fact, I don’t recommend mineral oil at all.
However, mineral oil is often recommended by doctors for seborrheic dermatitis and eczema. It’s a heavy duty moisturizer that helps soothe dry, itchy skin. Plus, it’s widely available and cheap.
Mineral oil leaves a lot to desire in seborrheic dermatitis. The oil can leave your skin oily and clog pores, possibly even triggering a flare. However, this oil doesn’t feed Malassezia. If you see it as one of the ingredients in a skincare product, it’s safe to use.
You can also use it as a pre-shampoo scalp treatment but make sure you wash it all out after. I also don’t think you should use put it on your face. At all.
Find out more about how to use mineral oil safely in seborrheic dermatitis.
To wrap up
There are plenty of good plant-based carrier oils around but most are not suitable for seborrheic dermatitis due to their high long-chain fatty acid content and ease of absorption. MCT oil, squalane, jojoba oil and mineral oil are the only ones ‘safe’ in SD. Of these, my favorite is squalane oil as it most closely resembles our natural sebum.
Adding more oils to my already oily skin doesn’t make sense to me unless that oil is doing something special, like dissolving my black heads. If I’m applying essential oils to my face, I prefer to mix a drop or two in with my water-based moisturizer instead.
You may also be interested in The Ultimate Guide to Seborrheic Dermatitis Treatment