Does oil make seborrheic dermatitis worse?

If you have seborrheic dermatitis, you might be wondering if oil makes it worse. The answer is yes, oil can definitely make seborrheic dermatitis worse. Oil applied on the skin, scalp or hair can clog pores, irritate the skin, feed Malassezia and trap flakes, which can lead to more irritation and inflammation.

Let’s take a deep dive:

Does oil make seborrheic dermatitis worse?

Seborrheic dermatitis is a skin condition that is thought to be caused by a few main factors, one of which is oily skin.

There are only 2 ways you can get oily skin:

  • overproduction of sebum – this is when your body produces too much oil. This can happen due to a multitude of factors including hormones, stress, and even dry skin.
  • applying oil on your skin – this is when you use topical oils or heavy creams and emollients that don’t get absorbed well, leaving your skin feeling greasy

Having oily skin doesn’t increase your risk of getting seborrheic dermatitis if you have no other predisposing factors. However, if you already have SD, oil on the skin causes a 2 major issues:

  • feeds Malassezia, increasing the number of yeasts on your skin (read about the role of Malassezia in SD)
  • irritates the skin and causes more inflammation

This can aggravate symptoms of seborrheic dermatitis and prolong your flare. Not all oils are bad for seborrheic dermatitis. Some oils may even help prevent flares and improve SD symptoms.

Can I put oil on seborrheic dermatitis?

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Essential oils like tea tree oil, peppermint oil and black seed oil have antifungal activity against Malassezia while chamomile, lavender, rose and other essential oils can sooth the skin and reduce inflammation.

Apply a few drops of diluted oil directly to troubled patches, or mix it in with your favorite moisturizer for an extra boost of essential nutrients.

Further reading: The 19 best essential oils for seborrheic dermatitis.

Just make sure you dilute these essential oils with carrier oils that are safe for seborrheic dermatitis.

Which oils are safe for seborrheic dermatitis?

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There are only a few oils that I deem safe for seborrheic dermatitis. These oils are easily absorbed by the skin and don’t contain long-chain fatty acids (LCFA). This is because Malassezia yeast feeds off LCFAs. Oleic acid and other LCFAs have also been shown to cause skin irritation in people with seborrheic dermatitis.

My list of safe oils include:

Mineral oil is technically also safe for seborrheic dermatitis but I don’t like using mineral oil on the skin if possible.

Oils to avoid when you have seborrheic dermatitis

Every other oil in this world should be avoided. I go into detail for some of the most common oils in Seborrheic dermatitis: common oils to avoid. 

In general, the facial oil you choose to apply on your face needs to be:

  • quickly and easily absorbed, leaving no greasy residue
  • does not contain long-chain fatty acids like oleic acid, lauric acid, linoleic acid etc.
  • don’t contain irritating ingredients like retinol, perfume, and other synthetic chemicals

When to stop using oils on your face and scalp

Even if an oil is supposedly safe for seborrheic dermatitis and you hear loads of anecdotal success stories on how people with seborrheic dermaititis or dandruff have cured themselves, it doesn’t mean that the same oil (or treatment) will work for you.

Everyone’s skin is different and certain ingredients and compounds can be irritating to your skin even if they are generally beneficial to the skin. If you find that your skin feels greasy or itchy, even if there is no obvious sign of rash, it’s time to lay off on the oil. On the scalp, you may find itchy little bumps that resemble pimples pop up.

I also find that my skin accepts oils a lot better in the colder months and during summer, when it’s more humid, oils and even heavier creams can leave my skin greasy, aggravating SD.

Does eating oily food worsen seborrheic dermatitis?

There is no direct correlation between seborrheic dermatitis and oily food. However,  greasy food can affect your immune system, increase inflammation and cause a whole load of other problems which indirectly affects control of seborrheic dermatitis.

I also find it almost impossible to cook or eat oily food without some of that oil transferring to my face. In fact, I’ve taken to washing my face even after stir-frying or cooking a roast in the oven just to remove some oil.

To wrap up

Facial oils may be useful, especially if you have dry skin. Essential oils are also very beneficial as some have strong anti-fungal properties and can be used as home remedies for seborrheic dermatitis. However, use oils with caution as you can easily aggravate your condition if you’re not careful.

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