Treatment Ideas for Scalp Psoriasis and Seborrheic Dermatitis

Disclaimer: This post is intended to provide information about how to use Dr. Bronner’s products, but is not medical advice, or a substitute for medical care or advice provided by a physician or licensed medical provider.

Is it Scalp Psoriasis or Seborrheic Dermatitis—or both?  

Both Scalp Psoriasis and Seborrheic Dermatitis cause scaly skin (or plaques) on the scalp, as well as flakes—often referred to as dandruff. These plaques on the scalp can often be irritated and itchy. Sometimes you will see the terms “Scalp Psoriasis” and “Seborrheic Dermatitis” used interchangeably, and although the two conditions have very similar symptoms, they have different underlying disease mechanisms and should not be considered to be the same. To add to the confusion, both conditions can occur together—for which you will see the term “Sebo-Psoriasis” used.

Though sometimes tough to tell apart, here are some good signs that you have one condition versus the other (source)—make sure to visit a licensed dermatologist to get an accurate diagnosis:

You likely have Scalp Psoriasis if:

  • You also have psoriasis on other parts of your body—such as elbows, knees, or hands.
  • Your scales are thicker and drier in appearance, often with a silvery-white appearance.
  • You have patches that extend beyond the hairline.

You probably have Seborrheic Dermatitis if:

  • Your scales are greasier looking—with reddish skin.
  • You have greasy-looking flakes (dandruff) that attach to your hair shafts.
  • You also have patches around the nose, eyebrows, and behind the ears—anywhere you have skin folds.

As a general rule of thumb, Scalp Psoriasis is a “drier” condition, while Seborrheic Dermatitis is an “oilier” condition. It may benefit you to tweak the treatment approaches discussed in this article based on whether you have a drier or oilier condition.

In addition, though Scalp Psoriasis and Seborrheic Dermatitis have different underlying mechanisms, they share many of the same symptoms, and may benefit from similar treatments that work to calm skin and minimize symptoms.

The general treatment approach

Because Scalp Psoriasis and Seborrheic Dermatitis share many of the same symptoms, conventional treatment approaches to these conditions often overlap. Here are some of the underlying factors that are shared by both conditions:

  • An overactive immune response on the skin, frequently in reaction to the over-proliferation of Malassezia yeasts, which occur naturally as part of our skin microbiome
  • A damaged or malfunctioning stratum corneum, which is the outermost layer of the epidermis (skin)
  • Compromised immunity, usually due to stress and genetic factors

Given this, most treatment approaches focus on shampoos and rinses that have (source):

  • Antifungal properties that control the over-proliferation of Malassezia yeast
  • Anti-inflammatory agents that calm the body’s immune response
  • Ability to repair the stratum corneum and return the skin barrier to normal functioning

Using natural products to treat Scalp Psoriasis and Sebo-Psoriasis

These treatment ideas are adapted from a regimen developed by Lamb Like, who devised the regimen to treat her own Sebo-Psoriasis. Her e-book is worth a read for those who want to understand how she developed the regimen by modifying conventional treatments—and also for those who want a more detailed description of the regimen, with lots of tips and tricks she’s gathered over the years!

Items you will need to complete the regimen successfully:

  • Organic Hemp Oil
  • Dr. Bronner’s Unscented Pure-Castile Liquid Soap
  • Apple Cider Vinegar (or Organic Hair Rinse)
  • Shower Cap
  • Optional: Dr. Bronner’s Organic Hair Crème (especially for dryer hair types)

Basic steps for treatment:

    1. Apply warmed up hemp oil to wet hair and scalp. Massage scalp well. Put on shower cap and leave the oil on for at least 8 hours (overnight is perfect, you can sleep with shower cap).
    2. Pre-dilute Dr. Bronner’s Unscented Pure-Castile Liquid Soap with water (1 part soap to 3 parts water). Massage through oily hair and use enough to achieve a good lather (don’t wet hair before applying the soap). Once hair and scalp are completely lathered, turn on shower and wash out oil and soap.
    3. Pre-dilute Apple Cider Vinegar 1:1 with water or pre-dilute Dr. Bronner’s Organic Hair Rinse per instructions on the bottle. Massage acidic rinse thoroughly through hair and rinse with water.
    4. (Optional) If hair feels dry after treatment, apply Dr. Bronner’s Organic Hair Crème as leave-in conditioner, with focus on the ends.

Here is how frequently you should do the treatment:

Week 1: once every other night
Week 2: once every two days
Week 3: once every three days
Week 4: once a week
Weeks 5–8: once every two weeks

For normal hair washing days, just leave out the oil treatment—simply shampoo with Dr. Bronner’s soap and follow with ACV or Organic Citrus rinse.

After two months of this regimen, you should be in remission, and the treatment can be applied occasionally as needed. 

Why Hemp Oil treatments may help

Hemp oil may be an effective natural way to treat Sebo-Psoriasis because of several compounds it contains that can be effective against symptoms of these conditions.

Antifungal properties: Hemp oil contains Caryophyllene Oxide, which has robust antifungal properties (source). Several other cannabinoids (CBD, CBG, CBC) have mild antifungal properties, and together, these provide a synergistic antifungal effect (source). As mentioned above, a common feature of both Scalp Psoriasis and Seborrheic Dermatitis is the over-proliferation of Malassezia yeast, so hemp oil’s antifungal properties can help control symptoms.

Skin-repairing properties: Hemp oil contains generous amounts of both Omega-3 and Omega-6  fatty acids, which both help in maintaining the stratum corneum permeability barrier (source). As mentioned above, a common feature of both Scalp Psoriasis and Seborrheic Dermatitis is the impaired functioning of the stratum corneum, so anything we can do to boost its normal functioning should help with controlling symptoms.

Anti-inflammatory properties: Omega-3 fatty acids have anti-inflammatory properties (source), and because hemp oil is particularly rich in Omega-3 fatty acids (the only vegetable oil to rival fish oil in its abundance of Omega-3 fatty acids), it is ideal for reducing inflammation, a common feature of both Scalp Psoriasis and Seborrheic Dermatitis.

A word about Hemp Oil

Now that CBD products have become very popular, you will see many varieties of hemp oil on the market—some with names like “hemp extract” or “CBD oil.” These are not the kind of hemp oil recommended here, as what is best for this regimen is a pure culinary-type hemp oil that has the full spectrum of hemp’s nutrients, rather than just certain cannabinoids (many of the CBD products focus only on having high CBD content, without concern for hemp oil’s other compounds).

The kind of hemp oil we recommend will either be called “hemp oil” or “hemp seed oil”—look for organic if possible, Nutiva and Manitoba Harvest both offer great options.

Tweaking the regimen for oilier conditions

If you tend more towards the Seborrheic Dermatitis end of the spectrum and have an oilier condition, then the regimen described above may need to be modified to treat your condition. In particular, the hemp oil portion of the regimen may not be suitable, as your scalp is likely producing too much sebum (the skin’s own oil).

In this case, you might try skipping the hemp oil step altogether and rinsing frequently with an ACV conditioning rinse, alternating that with a Pure-Castile Soap shampoo (followed by an ACV conditioning rinse). Apple cider vinegar on its own can help loosen plaques, and has antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties.

Author Profile

Rafi Loiederman

Rafi Loiederman is Content Editor at Dr. Bronner's, and has been using the company's products for over 20 years. He enjoys recording and performing music, is an avid hiker and naturalist, and an erstwhile linguist.

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