Seborrheic Dermatitis Medicated Shampoos

Medicated Shampoos For Seborrheic Dermatitis


You’re sitting in class, listening to your college professor drone on about mathematical equations. You’ve noticed lately that for some reason, you can’t stop scratching the back of your scalp. Today, it’s worse than ever. You end up scratching so hard that you find a bit of blood under your nails. When you get home, you take a good look in the mirror. When you do, you realize that you have little patches of dry red skin. That is what has been bothering you this week.


That is a condition known as Seborrheic Dermatitis or SD. First, we’re going to talk about what it is, then what we can do about it.


About Seborrheic Dermatitis


Seborrheic Dermatitis, or SD, is a skin condition that plagues more than 3 million people per year. Although most often found on the scalp, it can appear in other areas such as the face and neck. Patches of the skin begin to turn red and becomes itchy. Seborrheic Dermatitis is treatable through a variety of methods.


The most common method to treat SD is through the use of seborrheic dermatitis medicated shampoos. It is convenient, inexpensive, and simple. That’s why we have pulled together 5 of the most common ingredients used in these shampoos. In this article, we will take a look at each, break them down, and give our final recommendations based on the pros and cons that we discover.


[Note: We understand that some of our readers wish to avoid using modern medications. If this includes you, please take a look at our guide to using apple cider vinegar to treat your seborrheic dermatitis.]


Before we discuss each individual seborrheic dermatitis medicated shampoos ingredient, let’s take a moment to point something out about seborrheic dermatitis. It is important to realize that even if the treatment works, SD may come back at any time.


Dr. Gary Goldenberg, MD, is a doctor who did clinical testing on patients to optimize courses of treatment for SD. On the issue of recurrence of seborrheic dermatitis, here is a quote from Dr. Goldenberg’s case study, “Patients should be made aware that seborrheic dermatitis is a chronic condition that will probably recur even after successful treatment.”


Now, anyone who suffers from SD will tell you that it is absolutely worth treating. The absence of the ugly red patches, as well as the associated itching, are well worth it. This is simply to inform those of us who do suffer from it that we may have to deal with this illness for a long time to come. That is why we call it a treatment, not a cure.


seborrheic dermatitis medicated shampoos ingredients


Method For Comparing Seborrheic Dermatitis Medicated Shampoos


It would be very difficult to run our own study the magnitude of which would allow us to gather the data ourselves. So rather than doing that, we will be using authentic clinical trial case studies from PubMed, analyzing and presenting their results in such a way to enable you to easily pick a medicated shampoo knowing that there is scientific data behind it.


Selenium Sulfide


One of the most common ingredients that you will find in seborrheic dermatitis medicated shampoos is selenium sulfide, even found in the recognizable blue bottle of Selsun Blue. This is an anti-yeast medication that is used to treat SD and dandruff (one usually comes with the other). Side effects are dry scalp, hair loss, and hair discoloration. This is a serious side effect to almost anyone and not to be taken lightly. Rarely there have been reports of serious allergic reactions, so be aware of that as well.


Salicylic Acid


Often found in acne treatments, salicylic acid is a medication that is closely related to aspirin. In addition to treating SD as well as warts. Side effects include burning and sometimes skin peeling. It cannot be used by people who are allergic to the class of drugs known as NSAIDs.


Pyrithione Zinc


Written either as pyrithione zinc or as zinc pyrithione, this drug is an antifungal mainly to treat a wide array of skin conditions such as athlete’s foot, ringworm, and seborrheic dermatitis. Even the famous 3M corporation uses it to reduce bacteria in its household kitchen sink sponges.


Most notably found in other medicated shampoos in the aisles is this ingredient in Head & Shoulders. This ingredient works to combat bacteria using zinc. Cannot be used by pregnant or nursing women. Side effects include danger to the eyes (not so good since we’re using shampoo!).




One of the more powerful medicated shampoos contains ketoconazole. This is one that you should exercise with more caution. Although safe for the scalp, be absolutely sure to avoid the eyes. Also, it is often too strong as a nail fungus treatment, so be careful with this one. Side effects include nausea, headache, visual changes, and mood changes. Although this is primarily for internal use, do not overlook that the skin may absorb the medication when using the medicated shampoos.




Most often a nail fungus ingredient solution, but sometimes available as a seborrheic dermatitis medicated shampoo, Ciclopirox is a drug that stops the growth of fungus. If you haven’t come to the realization by now, the theme of all of these medications is antifungal or antibacterial concoctions. The generally accepted theory is that an overgrowth of yeast or fungus attributes to the formation of seborrheic dermatitis.


Ciclopirox is another strong medication that must avoid contact with the nose, eyes, mouth, or any other orifices. It’s even flammable!


seborrheic dermatitis decisions


Okay, So What’s The Deal?


I was getting there! Okay so first I need to explain something. Normally, I would add the data above concerning the efficacy of each medicated shampoos. What we found, however, is that generally speaking, each of the ingredients is fairly interchangeable. Although each will not work for every person, the clinical trials show that each ingredient works about twice as well as the control group who used non-medicated shampoo. The differences only began to really show when it came to side effects.


For example, ketoconazole was compared with both selenium sulfide and a control group. Both ketoconazole and selenium sulfide were about twice as effective as the control group, however not much different than each other. What was different, however, were the complaints about side effects. This clinical study noted that “There was a significantly higher incidence of adverse effects among patients using selenium sulfide shampoo.” In layman’s terms, the people preferred ketoconazole.


In one study, Ciclopirox shows superiority to placebo in comparison to ketoconazole. While again found to be nearly identical in effectiveness treating seborrheic dermatitis, this group felt that ketoconazole (which beat selenium sulfide in ratings) drew lower than ciclopirox in favorability (in terms of smell, side effects, etc.)


While Salicylic Acid was also shown to be effective as one of the seborrheic dermatitis medicated shampoos options, the skin peeling and dry scalp are a no-go for many of us.


So Which Seborrheic Dermatitis Medicated Shampoos Ingredients Work Best?


As you can see, the efficacy of each of these medicated shampoos is fairly similar. What it comes down to are the side effects and the favorability of the shampoo. Some cause burning and smell bad, while others smell decent and feel like a regular shampoo. In the end, this will basically come down to personal preference.


Personally, I would go with Pyrithione Zinc medicated shampoos. For example, this is what Head and Shoulders uses. It is a medicated shampoo that does what it needs to do, while not having the harsh side effects of some medications or the nasty smell of others.


In fact, if you’re a parent, you might be aware that this is the primary ingredient in your baby’s diaper rash cream. It is a good option to soothe the skin and the accompanying inflammation, which works well to combat the symptoms of seborrheic dermatitis.




As with any medical condition, we urge you to first speak with a certified medical doctor about your condition. We are not doctors, and any advice we give here is subservient to your doctor’s course of treatment.


That being said, we have chosen Head and Shoulders as our favorite seborrheic dermatitis medicated shampoos to treat dandruff and seborrhea. Taking advantage of the power of zinc pyrithione and its antibacterial properties, we are able to rid ourselves (temporarily at least) of SD and it’s aggravating symptoms. We can do this while not having our skin peel or using a nasty smelling shampoo by picking up a bottle of Head and Shoulders at any local supermarket. If it is not available at the local supermarket, you should be able to find this medicated shampoo on Amazon.


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