What vitamin deficiency causes seborrheic dermatitis?

Seborrheic dermatitis is a common skin condition characterized by red, itchy, scaly patches that can develop on the face, scalp, neck, and chest. The cause of seborrheic dermatitis is unknown, but it is likely caused by a combination of internal and external factors.

There is a great deal of debate surrounding the role that various vitamins and minerals play in the development and treatment of seborrheic dermatitis (SD). However, it is generally accepted that SD is associated with deficiencies in Vitamins A, C, D or B vitamins. SD may also be exacerbated by zinc, selenium, iron or essential fatty acid deficiency.

Let’s take a deep dive:

Importance of vitamins and minerals for skin health

Our skin is the outermost layer of our body and is responsible for protecting us from the environment. It is also our first line of defense against infection. The health of our skin depends on a number of factors, including diet, sun exposure, age, and genetics.

One important factor in maintaining healthy skin is getting enough vitamins and minerals. A deficiency in any one vitamin or mineral can lead to a variety of skin problems. Some common deficiencies include vitamin B12, biotin, zinc, selenium, and vitamin D.

Fortunately, it’s easy to get the nutrients your body needs to maintain healthy skin by eating a balanced diet rich in fruits and vegetables. If you are not getting enough vitamins and minerals from your diet alone, you may need to take supplements to ensure that your skin stays healthy.

close-up photo of vegetable salad

Can seborrheic dermatitis be caused by vitamin deficiency?

Vitamin B2, B6, and zinc are essential vitamins for healthy skin and a deficiency may impair your skin integrity, putting you at risk of a seborrheic dermatitis flare. Deficiency of B vitamins and vitamins A, E, D and C may play a role in the development of seborrheic dermatitis. Niacin, another form of vitamin B6, has also been linked to seborrheic dermatitis. More research is needed to determine if vitamin deficiencies are actually a cause of seborrheic dermatitis. However, if you find it difficult to control your SD, it’s worth checking to see if you are vitamin or mineral deficient.

Dandruff and vitamin deficiency

Dandruff is essentially scalp seborrheic dermatitis and can be caused by a variety of factors including a deficiency in certain vitamins and minerals. Vitamins B and D are essential for the healthy growth and development of the hair follicles, so it’s important to make sure you’re getting enough of them.

Vitamin D deficiency

Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin that helps regulate the body’s calcium and phosphorus levels. It is essential for the absorption of other nutrients. Vitamin D may play a role in the prevention of some types of cancer, as well as heart disease.

It is now known that vitamin D deficiency can worsen seborrheic dermatitis. Most recently, a 2021 study found that people with seborrheic dermatitis were much more likely to have a vitamin D deficiency than those without the condition. Vitamin D is essential for the body to manufacture keratin, the protein that makes up skin and hair. When vitamin D levels are low, the body tries to compensate by producing more sebum, an oily substance that helps keep the skin moist. And we know too well that lots of sebum leads to oily skin and aggravation of SD.

Interestingly, SD isn’t the only skin condition that has been linked to vitamin D deficiency. Other conditions include psoriasis and eczema. In fact, Vitamin D plays a vital role in a healthy immune system. As SD is caused by a hyper-reactive immune system and is potentially autoimmune in nature, this is one of the most important vitamins to make sure you have enough of. Vitamin D can be obtained from sunlight, fatty foods, or supplements.

What foods contain Vitamin D?

There are many foods that contain Vitamin D. Some of the most common sources are:

  • Fish, such as salmon and tuna
  • Eggs
  • Milk
  • Cheese
  • Other fortified dairy products

Best Vitamin D supplements

There are a lot of different Vitamin D supplements on the market, and it can be hard to know which is the best one for you. Look for Vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol) as it is better than D2 supplementation. Vitamin D3 can be sourced from plants, cod liver oil or lanolin so if you are vegan, make sure you know where your vitamin D is coming from.

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Vitamin C deficiency

When it comes to vitamins and minerals, many people are aware of the importance of Vitamin C. This water-soluble vitamin is essential for many bodily functions, including immune system support, collagen production, and wound healing.

Vitamin C is essential for the skin to function properly. There are no studies looking at the link between Vitamin C deficiency and seborrheic dermatitis but this vitamin is a dermatologist favorite for good reason. Adequate levels of Vitamin C is vital for skin health so it’s not surprising that a deficiency may aggravate SD.

What foods are high in Vitamin C?

While Vitamin C can be found in a variety of foods, some are higher in this nutrient than others. These common foods are known to be high in Vitamin C:

  • Bell peppers: All colors of bell peppers contain significant levels of Vitamin C—even more so than oranges!
  • Broccoli: One cup of broccoli provides almost 85% of your daily recommended intake of Vitamin C.
  • Brussels sprouts: Just one cup contains more than 150% of your daily recommended intake!
  • Kale: With nearly twice the amount as spinach, kale is an excellent source of Vitamin C.
  • Papaya: Papaya is not only a good source of Vitamin C; it also contains papain, an enzyme that helps digest protein.
  • Strawberries: One serving (about eight strawberries) gives you more than 100% of your daily recommended intake

Best Vitamin C supplements

If you feel like you need additional supplementation, there are many different brands and types of supplements available on the market.

The best Vitamin C supplements are those from whole foods and ones with bioflavanoids to aid absorption.

Garden of Life Vitamin C - Vitamin Code Raw Vitamin C - 120 Vegan Capsules, 500mg Whole Food Vitamin C with Bioflavonoids, Fruits & Veggies, Probiotics, Gluten Free Vitamin C Supplements for AdultsCheck it out on Amazon

Vitamin A deficiency

While it is uncommon, vitamin A deficiency may aggravate seborrheic dermatitis. People with low vitamin A levels could experience itching, dryness and scaly skin. Fortunately, serious vitamin A deficiencies are rare in developed countries. They are most often seen in seniors who don’t eat enough food or because their bodies don’t absorb nutrients as well as before. However, any person can be at risk for a deficiency if they don’t get enough of this nutrient from their diet.

Foods high in Vitamin A

These foods are high in vitamin A:

Best Vitamin A supplements

If you hate carrots or you’re looking for a good way to provide your body with enough Vitamin A, then consider taking a vitamin A supplement.

Pure Encapsulations Vitamin A 10,000 IU from Cod Liver Oil | Supports Immune and Cellular Health, Vision, Bones, Skin, and Reproductive Function* | 120 Softgel CapsulesCheck it out on Amazon

Further reading: Role of vitamin A in seborrheic dermatitis

Vitamin B1, B2, B6, B12 and niacin deficiency

Studies have shown that patients with seborrheic dermatitis are more likely to be deficient in certain vitamins and minerals, including vitamin B1, B2, B6, and B12 as well as niacin.

In fact, a study on 25 infants with generalized seborrheic dermatitis found that treatment with intravenous B complex, biotin or both improved SD in all infants within 4 to 8 days.

Vitamin B6 is important in the regulation of sebum production and helps keep your skin moisturized but not oily. Topical niacimide (derivative of Vitamin B3/ niacin) is used as a topical treatment for seborrheic dermatitis.

Low levels of any of these B vitamins may lead to SD outbreaks. Fortunately, it’s relatively easy to get the recommended daily allowance (RDA) of these vitamins by eating a healthy diet.

Foods high in B vitamins

Foods like poultry, eggs, fish, dairy products and whole grains are all good sources of B vitamins:

  • Meat (e.g., beef, pork, lamb)
  • Poultry (e.g., chicken, turkey)
  • Fish (e.g., tuna, salmon)
  • Dairy products (e.g., milk, yogurt)
  • Eggs
  • Legumes (e.g., black beans, lentils)
  • Nuts (e.g., almonds, cashews)
  • Seeds (e.g., pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds)

Best B complex supplements

B complex supplements contain a range of B vitamins. These vitamins help convert food into energy, maintain nerve function, and support a healthy immune system. There are many different B complex supplements on the market. As usual my preference is to go with natural vitamins sourced from whole foods.

Garden of Life Vitamin B Complex - Vitamin Code Raw B Complex - 120 Vegan Capsules, High Potency B Complex Vitamins for Energy & Metabolism with B6, Folate & B12 as Methylcobalamin Plus ProbioticsCheck it out on Amazon

Read more about the role of Vitamin B in skin health and seborrheic dermatitis.

Biotin deficiency

Biotin (Vitamin B7) is one of the water soluble B vitamins but deserve special mention. Biotin plays an important role in the metabolism of fats and proteins. Biotin is also called Vitamin H. A deficiency in this nutrient can lead to a number of health problems including hair loss, skin rashes, and brittle nails. A deficiency of biotin can cause seborrheic dermatitis in some people.

Research has shown that supplementing with biotin may help to improve symptoms in some people who have seborrheic dermatitis.

Symptoms of biotin deficiency may include a scaly rash around the mouth or nose, redness and swelling around the eyes, dry skin, hair loss, weakness, tiredness, and lack of mental clarity.

Biotin deficiency is a result of western dietary patterns. When people consume mostly processed foods that are low in nutrients (such as white breads and pasta), they often do not get enough vitamins and minerals – including biotin – from their diet.

Foods high in biotin

Biotin is a water soluble vitamin and is found in many different foods. The richest sources of biotin are animal products, such as:

  • meat
  • poultry
  • eggs
  • dairy products
  • salmon

Biotin is also found in some plant-based foods, such as:

  • nuts
  • seeds
  • legumes (beans, peas)
  • whole grains
  • avocado

However, the levels of biotin in plant-based foods are generally lower than those in animal-based foods.

Biotin supplements

Biotin deficiency is extremely rare because it can be produced by bacteria in the intestines. However, if you think you don’t get enough biotin in your diet, you may try a biotin supplement.

Whole Food Biotin Supplement - Contains Certified Organic Plant Based Biotin from Sesbania Agati Trees - by LifeGarden Naturals. May Support Healthy Hair, Skin and Nails. 60 Non GMO Veggie Capsules.Check it out on Amazon

More research is needed to determine the levels of biotin required for optimal health and whether there are any adverse effects associated with high doses of supplemental biotin. At this time, there are no upper limits set for dietary intake of biotin as it is water-soluble and should wash out with your pee.

Zinc deficiency

Zinc deficiency is a common cause of skin inflammatory disorders. If you don’t get enough zinc in your diet, you’re at risk for developing skin rashes, cracked skin and even seborrheic dermatitis.

Fortunately, there are ways to prevent zinc deficiency and seborrheic dermatitis. You can increase your intake of zinc-rich foods or take supplements to make sure you’re getting enough of this important nutrient.

Foods high in zinc

There are a number of foods that are high in zinc. Some of the most common include:

  • Beef
  • Pork
  • Lamb
  • Cashews
  • Almonds
  • Peanuts
  • Oysters
  • Wheat germ

Best zinc supplements

There are many zinc supplements on the market, and not all of them are created equal. Some are better absorbed by the body than others.

The best zinc supplements will include other ingredients, such as selenium and magnesium, which work synergistically with zinc to improve absorption and promote optimal health.

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Iron deficiency

It is important to get proper nutrition, including the right amount of iron, if you want to keep your skin looking and feeling great. Unfortunately, many people don’t get enough of the key vitamins and minerals they need for healthy skin.

Iron deficiency can cause anaemia (low haemoglobin) and various other conditions. Low iron levels can show up on the skin as dry, flaky skin and itchy skin.

Best foods for iron absorption

There are many ways to make sure you’re getting enough iron in your diet. Eat plenty of food rich in iron like:

  • chicken
  • fish
  • nuts
  • legumes

Best iron supplements

The problem with iron supplements is that it can irritate your stomach and cause constipation. An excellent option is fermented iron complex. It’s gentler on the tummy, absorbed better, and is non-constipating..

Iron Supplement, New Chapter Fermented Iron Complex with Organic Whole-Food Ingredients + One Daily Non-Constipating Dose- 60ct, 2 Month SupplyCheck it out on Amazon

Further reading: Can iron deficiency cause seborrheic dermatitis?

Selenium deficiency

Selenium is a trace mineral that is important for overall health. This mineral helps to protect cells from damage and also supports the immune system. Selenium deficiency may cause seborrheic dermatitis, as well as other health problems such as tiredness, hair loss and reproductive problems.

Selenium is also used as an active antifungal agent in anti-dandruff shampoos.

Selsun Blue Moisturizing Anti-dandruff Shampoo with Aloe, 11 fl. oz., Selenium Sulfide 1%Check it out on Amazon

Surprisingly, a small study looking at levels of selenium, zinc and copper levels in seborrheic dermatitis patients found that there was no significant differences between people with SD and people without. However, selenium levels were higher in SD sufferers.

Foods high in selenium

Selenium is found in foods such as:

  • Brazil nuts
  • tuna
  • sardines
  • organ meats
  • meats
  • grains such as wheat germ and barley

It’s best to meet a nutritional deficiency with healthy foods whenever possible.

Best selenium supplements

There are selenium supplements available but I prefer to take selenium as part of a multi-vitamin or multi-mineral tablet with other nutrients.

Organic Selenium 200 mcg with Iodine and Silica All from Certified Organic Whole Foods - Two Month SupplyCheck it out on Amazon

Essential fatty acids deficiency

Fatty acids are essential for healthy cells and immune function. Of all the lipids, omega-3 fatty acids and omega-6 fatty acids are the most essential and must be obtained from your diet.

Studies have shown that there may be a link between seborrheic dermatitis and essential fatty acids deficiency.

A relative deficiency of omega-6 may result in a higher concentration of oleic acid in the sebum. This may weaken the skin barrier, and prevent skin healing. Oleic acid also feeds Malassezia yeast and may encourage its growth, worsening SD.

An unbalanced ratio of Omega-3 and Omega-6 may worsen inflammation as well, further aggravating SD.

Further reading: Is fish oil good for seborrheic dermatitis?

Best foods for essential fatty acids

There are a few key points to remember when looking for foods high in EFAs. The most important are omega-3 and omega-6:

  • Omega-3 is found in fish oils, flaxseeds, walnuts and leafy green vegetables.
  • Omega-6 is found in vegetable oils, nuts and seeds.

Eat a variety of foods to ensure you’re getting the right balance of nutrients. Opt for organic versions of these foods whenever possible to avoid exposure to harmful chemicals.

How to supplement essential fatty acids

If you are supplementing EFAs, make sure you choose one with a good Omega-3 to Omega-6 ratio and is mercury-free.

Solgar Omega-3 Fish Oil Concentrate, 240 Softgels - Support for Cardiovascular, Joint & Brain Health - Contains EPA & DHA Omega 3 Fatty Acids - Non GMO, Gluten Free, Dairy Free - 120 ServingsCheck it out on Amazon

To wrap up

It is evident that certain vitamin and mineral deficiencies may worsen seborrheic dermatitis. While further research is needed to determine the exact role of each vitamin, it is clear that ensuring adequate levels of these nutrients can help to prevent or improve seborrheic dermatitis. However, in order to get rid of seborrheic dermatitis once and for all, you’ll need to treat it holistically.

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