What Happens When Seborrheic Dermatitis Is left Untreated

While seb derm is not life-threatening or contagious, it can cause discomfort and negatively impact your quality of life. Unfortunately, seborrheic dermatitis is often diagnosed late.

As seb derm sufferers, we tend to seek medical help late, often leaving it for years. Plus, many doctors don’t have the knowledge or experience to diagnose and treat seb derm correctly.

What happens when we leave seb derm untreated for a long time? On hindsight, I left seb derm untreated for at least 20 years so I’m well qualified to provide insight into the natural progression of seborrheic dermatitis and why it’s important to address this skin issue in a timely manner.

Let’s take a deep dive:

In a nutshell: Living 20 years with untreated seborrheic dermatitis

The years before

My first symptoms probably started in my late teens/ early adulthood years. I was one of those kids who had major issues with pustular acne and really oily skin. I would get the occassional patch of scaly rash on my face which went away by itself over a few weeks. I also had bad dandruff and used to avoid wearing black just so I could hide the flakes.

At this stage, I haven’t even heard of the term ‘seborrheic dermatitis’ and put it all down to growing pains and hormones. During times of stress, and there were plenty as I went through medical training and personal issues, my dandruff would get worse and I would break out in random skin rashes.

The patches of itchy, scaly rash could occur anywhere but they mostly affected my neck. In the night, I would scratch so hard that I woke up with drops of dried blood on my sheets. I took high doses of Vitamin C, cut my hair really short and eliminated foods I thought was causing the rash.

Again, never thought of seb derm. But I knew it was triggered by stress.

The rash was annoying but it was never so bad that I felt the need to seek help. And it always went away by itself over days or weeks.

The peak

After the birth of my second child, my stress levels went through the roof. The severe lack of sleep, the emotional upheaval of dealing with my first child’s ‘allergic reaction’ to her new baby brother, and post-natal depression all took a toll resulting in a rash that didn’t go away.

First, there was a little patch of red, scaly skin on my cheeks. Then it spread to my forehead and chin. My ears started showing signs next followed by my neck and upper chest. This time, instead of going away, the rash kept spreading over a wider area.

I panicked then.

Delays in diagnosis

I saw my doctor and disappointingly but not surprisingly, she diagnosed a rash (duh) and offered me steroid cream. I saw another doctor and she got me to do all sorts of expensive tests for food allergies and a hundred other compounds.

In the meantime, I realized that my health was most important to me but not to doctors or anyone else. To the doctor, I’m just another patient. To me, I’m the most important patient. I needed to take things into my own hands.

I started systematically researching skin rashes and eliminating those I didn’t think was my issue. I ended up with dermatitis herpetiformis, rosacea and seborrheic dermatitis. I would have added lupus rash to the mix but by this stage, I already tested negative for lupus antibodies (phew).

The Eureka Moment

I couldn’t confirm that I had seborrheic dermatitis but I had a strong feeling about it. While the symptoms I had didn’t perfectly fit the typical symptoms described in medical literature, it was close enough. I figured I had nothing to lose and started using an antifungal cream, diving deeper into seb derm and the end result is this seb derm regimen and Madame Well.

(5 pack) Globe Clotrimazole Antifungal Cream 1% (1 oz) Relieves the itching, burning, cracking and scaling associated with fungal infections | Compare to the Name Brand Active IngredientCheck it out on Amazon

So… what happens when seborrheic dermatitis is left untreated?

When you leave seb derm untreated, it gets worse. The rash spreads to more areas of your body and the severity of flaking, itch and inflammation can get worse.

More importantly, seb derm is a symptom of deeper health issues like a defective skin barrier, uncontrolled chronic stress and inflammation. When you leave seb derm untreated or treat it wrongly, i.e focusing only on skincare, you’re not solving the core issues which led to seb derm in the first place.

Over time, this will lead to other health problems.

Why some people leave their seborrheic dermatitis untreated

A lack of awareness about the condition is one common explanation. As seborrheic dermatitis is not well known, most people might not even realize they have it or may mistake it for another skin issue, such as eczema or rosacea.

Another reason could be the chronic and relapsing nature of seborrheic dermatitis.  As long as the rash was going away, I didn’t look further into it. Life  is busy and it’s easy to forget that our health is a priority. Look at me. I am a doctor and I left my seb derm untreated for 20 years so don’t feel bad that you did it too. 

Complications from untreated seborrheic dermatitis

When seborrheic dermatitis is left untreated, you can expect to run into these complications:

Physical discomfort

As your rash gets worse, it will cause more irritation and itching.

Scratching can result in several complications:

  • Increased inflammation: Scratching can cause additional inflammation, aggravating the condition and worsening the symptoms
  • Broken skin and bleeding: Excessive scratching may break the skin, leading to bleeding and increasing the risk of skin infections

Skin damage

Persistent itching and scratching can lead to broken skin and pain, making the affected area prone to further irritation. In some cases, persistent scratching over a long period of time can cause scarring or a thickening of the skin called lichenification.

Negative psychological impact

Seborrheic dermatitis affects not only physical health but also mental wellbeing. The appearance of inflamed, scaly skin can lead to self-consciousness, embarrassment, and social avoidance. The persistence of symptoms, especially in highly visible areas such as the face, may result in a decline in self-esteem and even depression.

I was acutely embarassed of my very visible rash on my face. On some days I didn’t even want to go to work. My self-esteem took a plunge and I had to work very hard not to go into a spiral of anxiety and depression.

man covering face with both hands while sitting on bench

Infection Risks

Excessive scratching of the affected areas can break the skin, leading to bleeding and increasing the risk of infections. Open wounds due to uncontrolled scratching can become susceptible to bacterial infections, which might require medical intervention.

Involvement of other organs

Seborrheic dermatitis doesn’t usually involve other organs but there is a chance it can cause seborrheic blepharitis, which is basically Seb Derm of the eyelids.

Hair loss

In some cases, untreated seborrheic dermatitis on the scalp can lead to hair loss. The constant itching and inflammation may weaken the hair follicles, causing hair to fall out. This hair loss is often temporary, and treating the underlying condition can help restore hair growth.

To wrap up

Addressing seborrheic dermatitis early can significantly reduce the risk of complications and improve your quality of life. Proper treatment and lifestyle changes can prevent long-term damage to the skin and help you manage this common skin condition effectively.

If you’re feeling like you left seb derm for too long untreated, you’re not alone. Most of us only realized on hindsight how long  and how deeply this dratted skin condition has affected our life. It’s not too late. Now that you know you have seb derm, it’s time to take control and do something about it.

Here are some articles to get you started:

What triggers seborrheic dermatitis?

Why do I have seborrheic dermatitis (and not them)?

A seborrheic dermatitis skincare routine that actually works

The Ultimate Guide to Seborrheic Dermatitis Treatment

These articles link to others you might find helpful. Also remember to sign up for my weekly newsletter where I discuss my latest seb derm deep dives and sometimes go on a tangent about my life.

2 thoughts on “What Happens When Seborrheic Dermatitis Is left Untreated”

  1. Pingback: What Happens When You Leave Seb Derm Untreated (16/04/2023)

  2. Pingback: Is seborrheic dermatitis itchy? Yes, and this is how I treat it.

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