Cradle cap, medically known as seborrheic dermatitis, is a scalp condition common in infants under 3 months old. However, adults can get seborrheic dermatitis -- another name for dandruff -- as well. MayoClinic.com says that although dandruff is not harmful to your health, it can be unsightly, uncomfortable and embarrassing. The website adds that you should see your doctor if discomfort from your dandruff interferes with your sleep or daily life, if skin is painful or infected or if dandruff persists in spite of self-care.
With seborrheic dermatitis, the affected skin can look greasy, scaly, red or flaky. The disorder also causes whitish or yellow scales to flake from the scalp. University of Maryland Medical Center says you may also experience hair loss, and skin may be itchy and sore. Symptoms of seborrheic dermatitis often improve in summer, especially after spending time outdoors.
Family Doctor says that the exact cause of dandruff is unknown, but it is linked to both hormonal changes and the overgrowth of a fungus called malassezia; heredity may play a role as well. MayoClinic. com says that seborrheic dermatitis is more likely to develop in people with neurologic disorders such as Parkinson's disease and epilepsy.
According to Family Doctor, when seborrheic dermatitis appears in adults, it usually develops between the ages of 30 and 60. University of Maryland Medical Center says that stress, changes in weather, fatigue, shampooing too infrequently, having acne and being obese all increase the risk of having dandruff.
You can treat dandruff with an over-the-counter shampoo for seborrheic dermatitis that contains salicylic acid, selenium sulfide, coal tar or zinc pyrithione. Family Doctor advises using the shampoo daily, then cutting back to 2 or 3 times a week as your dandruff begins to subside. Gently massage your scalp to loosen flakes while shampooing and allow it to stay in place for 5 minutes before rinsing. If your dandruff persists, MayoClinic.com says your doctor may recommend a prescription-strenglth shampoo; if he feels your seborrheic dermatitis is a result of the malassezia fungus, he may prescribe ketoconazole. MayoClinic.com states that immunomodulating drugs are effective for treating seborrheic dermatitis, but they shouldn't be used long-term because of possible effects on the immune system.
Alternative Dandruff Treatment
According to Sarah Taylor, M.D., M.P.H., a physician of internal medicine in Westford, Mass., 5-percent tea tree oil shampoo has antimicrobial properties and may be an effective natural dandruff treatment. There is some scientific research supporting the use of tea tree oil. In a clinical study conducted by A.C. Satchell and published in the December 2002 issue of "Journal of American Academy of Dermatology," a 5-percent tea tree oil showed a 41 percent improvement in the symptoms of 126 patients with mild to moderate dandruff, leading the researchers to conclude that tea tree oil shampoo was an effective treatment.