How I Treated My Sebhorreic Dermatitis With a Simple Drugstore Skin-Care Routine

Photo: Getty Images/ PonyWang
Since my early 30s, when my life and career became more stressful, I’ve struggled with seborrheic dermatitis. For me, this comes in the form of dandruff and more alarmingly, irritated patches of red and flaky skin on my face. Not great. It can take a toll on my self-confidence and has resulted in frequent trips to bathroom mirrors to secretly manage flare-ups.

Over the years, I’ve tried many things to keep the flares and flakiness at bay, most of which didn’t really fix the problem and often just left me with greasy skin. Until I found a drugstore seborrheic dermatitis routine that combines a few lifestyle habits with some surprisingly affordable skin products.

My drugstore seborrheic dermatitis routine

The cleanser

My immune system tends to be of the overreactive variety, which can make me more sensitive to triggers that might cause flares. This means I have to stay on top of my skin care daily to manage and prevent symptoms. My routine always starts with CeraVe’s Renewing SA Cleanser, an exfoliant I use to clear away dead skin cells and leave my face feeling fresh.

Discovering the Renewing SA Cleanser was like a revelation, and now this humble bottle lives right next to my shampoo in the shower. What I love about the cleanser is that it pulls double duty, removing all the gunk that doesn’t belong on my face, while at the same time smoothing my skin and helping it retain moisture.

This is thanks to the ingredients salicylic acid, a gentle exfoliant, and ceramides, which support the skin barrier. The formula is so gentle, in fact, that it feels impossible to use too much. On trickier days, I will sometimes apply a second pass, but I’m never left feeling dry or “squeaky clean.” And even though I can get a little overeager using this product, it doesn’t take much to do the job. One bottle will often last me two months or more.

The moisturizer

Once my face feels refreshed, there’s a trick I found to keep it that way throughout the day without having to stay within 15 feet of a mirror. To add a little nourishment and lock in more moisture, I apply about one pump of Everyday Oil. I will usually put a little in my palm and then rub it together with some water before gently massaging it onto my face. This helps the oil spread more easily and better absorb into my skin.

The tricky part of this step, though, is that I add some tea tree oil to the bottle. About 15 to 20 drops seems to work well for me. You could apply the tea tree oil separately, of course, but because I use it every day (wink), I find it’s easier to add directly to the bottle.

The Everyday Oil is great because it contains a blend of some amazing oils, including jojoba and coconut, that leave my skin feeling protected and delicious. Some of these oils also mimic properties of those produced naturally by your skin, so I feel well hydrated instead of greasy. What makes the tea tree oil the magic ingredient, though, is its antifungal properties.

According to board certified dermatologist Hadley King, MD, a yeast known as malasezzia can contribute to seborrheic dermatitis. Because of this, she says, incorporating an ingredient with anti-fungal properties such as tea tree oil into your routine may be helpful. I have also started adding a little tea tree oil to my favorite shampoo to prevent dandruff, and there are plenty of shampoos that already contain this ingredient for this very reason.

The lifestyle changes

Finding this combination of products to manage my dermatitis symptoms has been a game-changer for my self-confidence. But what makes it all much easier is paying attention to some lifestyle habits that help support my healthy skin. Getting a good night’s sleep is one of the best things I can do for my face. I also try to eat an anti-inflammatory diet, which keeps my immune system from accidentally going haywire.

These are both strategies I use to minimize stress, which in my experience, seems to make flare-ups more likely, and Dr. King confirms that this is likely the case. “Seborrheic dermatitis is an inflammatory condition, and we know that stress can make it worse” she says. “So I think it makes sense that anti-inflammatory lifestyle choices may help, even if we don't have a lot of substantial scientific data to prove this.”

Thanks to these approaches, my face has never looked—and felt—better. Whatever life throws at me, I now know I have the tools to care for my complexion and show up with confidence. By exfoliating with a gentle cleanser, moisturizing to support my skin barrier, and managing stress, I stay dermatitis-free every day.

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