Rosacea and seborrheic dermatitis are two common skin disorders. On the face, they both might look alike, and hard to tell which one you have. This is why I have created the article “Rosacea vs. Seborrheic Dermatitis.” In this article, I will share my knowledge of medicine and skin therapy and look into the differences between these two disorders.
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What Is Rosacea?
Rosacea is a common skin condition that causes erythema (facial redness), blushing, flushing, and burning sensation, sometimes clearly visible vessels, telangiectasias, and pus-filled papules on the face. In severe cases, rosacea may cause nose swelling (rhinophyma) and skin thickening on the forehead, cheeks, and chin. Sometimes ocular rosacea develops and causes red, dry eyes and swollen red eyelids.
The causes of rosacea are not clearly understood. Heredity, fair skin, an overactive immune system, hot and spicy foods, histamine-containing foods, alcohol, and wind are among the triggering factors.
Demodex mites are involved in pimple formation. Helicobacter pylori are associated with rosacea as it was estimated to cause inflammation in the body that spreads to the skin.
What Is Seborrheic Dermatitis?
Seborrheic Dermatitis is also a common skin condition that causes redness, swelling, and scaly greasy patches on the face, scalp, and other areas with many oil glands (upper back, chest, armpit, groin).
The most likely cause of seborrheic dermatitis is yeast overgrowth. The Malassezia yeast belongs to the natural skin’s flora. When the skin’s microbiome is balanced, this yeast does not cause any trouble. But when Malassezia overgrows, our immune system reacts to it and causes inflammation and skin issues.
Some factors may trigger seborrheic dermatitis: hormonal changes, stress, medical conditions (acne, psoriasis, rosacea, immunodeficiency diseases, alcoholism, Parkinson’s disease, depression), and medications used to treat these conditions (psoralen, interferon, lithium), harsh cosmetics ingredients and detergents, lack of vitamins (A, B6, B12, C, biotin), dry and cold weather.
Rosacea vs. Seborrheic Dermatitis: What Are the Similarities?
The two conditions sometimes may look alike, especially on the face. They both are inflammatory skin disorders. The skin, in both cases, may look pinkish or red and have visible vessels, scales, and follicular plugs. They both may cause itchiness. And they both may occur together (they both are caused by the overgrowth of a particular natural skin’s flora and the immune system’s reaction).
Rosacea vs. Seborrheic Dermatitis: What Are the Differences?
Besides being very similar conditions, they are totally different disorders and have many differences. They usually affect different age groups and genders, different areas of the body and face, and may look different.
I have put all the differences between rosacea and seborrheic dermatitis in the table.
|Age||It usually affects middle-aged or older persons, but it might affect all ages.||It usually affects babies but is often seen in teenagers and adults.|
|Gender||More often affects women||More often affects men|
|Skin Color||More often, dark red||More often, pinkish|
|Vessels||Prominent in network-like pattern||Dotted or curved vessels in a patchy pattern|
|Scales||More often, white scales with scattered distribution||More often, yellow scales with a patchy distribution|
|Follicular plug/bumps||Very common||Common|
|Affected body areas||Face||Face, scalp, upper chest, back, under breasts, armpits, groin area, and sometimes hands.|
|Affected face areas||Usually, cheeks, but also the nose, forehead, eyelids, ears, and chin may be affected.||Around the nose, nasolabial folds, forehead, inner eyebrows, external ear canal, behind the ear, and sometimes eyelids.|
|Triggering factors||Genetics, fair skin, hot, spicy foods, histamine-containing foods, alcohol, wind.||Cold, stress, hormonal imbalances, certain medical conditions and medications, harsh cosmetics, and detergents.|
|Associated microorganism||Demodex mites||Malassezia yeast|
|Nutritional Causes||Lack of zinc||Lack of vitamins (A, B6, B12)|
|Treatment||Acaricides (kill mites), azelaic acid, benzoyl peroxide, tea tree oil, laser treatments||Antifungals, salicylic acid, selenium sulfide, sulfur, tea tree oil, turmeric, probiotics, and sometimes steroids.|
As the table indicates, rosacea and seborrheic dermatitis are pretty different conditions despite sometimes being mistaken.
Rosacea vs. Seborrheic Dermatitis: How Are They Diagnosed?
They both are usually diagnosed by observing the skin. Seborrheic dermatitis appears on some characteristic regions and can be diagnosed just by examining the skin and typical areas.
Rosacea can be diagnosed by examining the scrapes of the skin under the microscope or performing a dermoscopy to find mites.
Seborrheic dermatitis can be diagnosed by performing a skin biopsy, but it is done more to exclude other diseases than diagnose seborrheic dermatitis.
How Are Rosacea and Seborrheic Dermatitis Treated?
Before you start treating rosacea or seborrheic dermatitis, consult with a doctor.
Papulopustular rosacea is treated with acaricides that kill mites. Among them are permethrin, metronidazole, ivermectin, selenium sulfide, sulfur, and salicylic acid.
Azelaic acid, pulsed light, and diode laser treatments are best for erythematous rosacea. Also, blood vessel strengthening with Centella Asiatica, green tea, Ginkgo, and other ingredients is highly recommended.
The overgrowth of yeast causes seborrheic dermatitis, so antifungals work best. You can use creams, gels, washes, and shampoos containing antifungals such as ketoconazole, sertaconazole, and ciclopirox. If this is not enough, oral antifungal pills might be prescribed.
All these medications require a prescription; only shampoos (such as Nizoral or Zincon) and Athlete’s foot creams containing antifungals are sold over the counter. Tip: you can use shampoo or Athlete’s foot cream on other body parts, not only your head or feet.
Corticosteroids are prescribed in doctor’s offices to reduce inflammation. They include hydrocortisone, fluocinolone (Capex, Synalar), clobetasol (Clobex, Temovate), and desonide (Desowen, Desonate). Use them if you really need them and for a short period because steroids have many side effects, such as skin thinning, perioral dermatitis, loss of skin pigment (vitiligo-like conditions), skin ruptures, striae, lines, ulcers, bruising, facial erythema, rosacea, contact allergy and other. Of course, steroids cause these side effects if used for a long time. My recommendation – stay cautious while using them.
Topical calcineurin inhibitors such as tacrolimus (Protopic) or pimecrolimus (Elidel) work, as well as corticosteroids, only have fewer side effects. They were not used widely as the US Food and Drug Administration warned of possible increased cancer risk in 2006. A systematic review published in 2021 revealed no association between topical calcineurin inhibitor use and the risk of skin cancer or cancer overall. The downside of calcineurin inhibitors is that they are pretty costly.
Salicylic acid (yes, again!) is one of the ingredients that reduce the number of yeast, has an anti-inflammatory effect, and removes the excess of dead skin cells.
Overall, acids create an acidic environment that fungi do not like and cannot live in. Azelaic acid, found in Skinoren cream, is also helpful.
Whether you perform a professional chemical peel or use washes, creams, or masks with acids at home, they are really helpful in treating seborrheic dermatitis.
Sulfur has an antifungal effect and is one of the safest ingredients. In fact, it is one of my favorite ingredients in treating fungal skin conditions. Look for skincare products containing sulfur (De La Cruz Sulfur Ointment or Margarite Zinc cream, which also contains sulfur).
Benzoyl peroxide, tea tree oil, and turmeric can also help.
Probiotics may help you restore a healthy microbiome balance. Oral probiotics restore gut health (there is a connection between the gut and the skin), and skincare products with probiotics restore the skin’s flora.
Control your sebum secretion and avoid oils and fatty acids in skincare because oil feeds yeast.
Remember to strengthen your immune system as seborrheic dermatitis flares up in immunodeficient persons.
And hydrate, hydrate, hydrate your skin. Without moisture, your skin will produce more oil to restore the skin’s hydration and create a perfect environment for the yeast to flourish. Also, dehydrated skin will have a damaged barrier and be more susceptible to infection and inflammation.
Let’s wrap up our final thoughts on our article “Rosacea vs. Seborrheic Dermatitis.”
Rosacea and seborrheic dermatitis might look alike and be mistaken, but they are totally different disorders.
Rosacea is caused by an overactive immune system triggered by hot and spicy foods and is most often seen in fair skin. It causes facial redness, flushing, burning sensation, visible vessels, telangiectasias, and sometimes pustules caused by Demodex mites. It usually affects the face: nose, cheeks, and other areas.
On the other hand, seborrheic dermatitis is caused by the overgrowth of yeast Malassezia, the inflammatory reaction of the skin. It is most often seen in patients with some immunodeficiency.
Seborrheic dermatitis causes redness and scaly greasy patches on specific areas on the face (around the nose, nasolabial folds, inner eyebrows, forehead, behind the ear), scalp, body folds (under the breasts, groin area, armpits) and sometimes hands.
Rosacea requires acaricides to eliminate mites and means to strengthen vessels, while seborrheic dermatitis needs to be treated with antifungals and sebum regulators. It can be tricky to tell by yourself which one you have, therefore I always recommend consulting a healthcare provider.
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