This is the ultimate guide to treating dandruff in eyebrows. Topics such as what makes the eyebrows prone to dandruff, what usually causes it, and what can be done to make it go away are discussed.
Table of Contents
- 1 The Basics of Dandruff
- 2 Potential Treatment Approach to Dandruff in Eyebrows
- 3 Additional Areas of Interest
- 4 Summary
The Basics of Dandruff
Dandruff is a widespread skin condition which may effect individuals of any age. The condition usually presents itself as flaky (scaling), red patches of skin which may be either overly oily or dry.
Dandruff is also commonly called seborrheic dermatitis.
Though, both words describe the same condition, seborrheic dermatitis is more frequently used when areas other then the scalp are discussed. And dandruff is most commonly used when individuals are talking about the scalp. In this article the terms will be used interchangeably.
A Bit About Malassezia
Most medical professionals agree that dandruff is usually caused by various members of the malassezia yeast species. These unique fungi are lipophilic (depend on lipids/oils for their survival) and as a result are commonly present at sebum rich areas of skin.
Malassezia is present on the skin of almost everyone. However, only in certain individuals does it appear to cause skin issues such as seborrheic dermatitis. And to this day, researchers have mixed opinions one which specific factors that determine what causes this drastic difference.
Why Some Get Dandruff While Other Don’t
The following factors appear to influence the likelihood of seborrheic dermatitis:
- The density of malassezia found on the skin appears to drastically increase in adults after puberty, declining in the late middle age (1)
- Normal sebum is typically compromised of about 13% free fatty acids, but after exposure to malassezia this increased to 32% (2)
- Sebum appears to differ in healthy individuals and those with seborrheic dermatitis. For those with seborrheic dermatitis, triglycerides and cholesterol are higher, while squalene and free fatty acids are lower (3)
- Some individuals appear to be more susceptible to the specific free fatty acids (mainly oleic acid) which the malassezia produce (4)
- The presence of the free fatty acids produced by malassezia (even without any fungi present) can trigger seborrheic dermatitis on susceptible individuals (5)
It appears that some individuals simply do not tolerate the byproducts of the malassezia feeding cycle. However, what determines this individual susceptibility remains a mystery.
Where Does the Breakdown Occur?
Does the skin of people who experience seborrheic dermatitis simply produce lower quality sebum (more prone to consumption by malassezia)? Or perhaps their skin barrier is simply malfunctioning and overreacting to the free fatty acids produced by the active malassezia?
What Causes It To Occur in the Eyebrows
The most common area effected by dandruff is usually the scalp (6). Yet, in some individuals it can also occur on the eyebrows, ears (both inside and behind the ear), nasal folds, cheeks and/or chest (7).
The reason why dandruff typically occurs here appears to be related to the unique characteristics of the skin in these areas. At these sites, the density of sebaceous glands (a small gland that secretes sebum onto the skin) is much higher than other areas.
Due to this higher density of sebaceous glands, these areas are typically rich in sebum (a combination of oils, wax esters, and squalene)(8) . And it is this abundance of sebum that makes these areas prone to dandruff.
Potential Treatment Approach to Dandruff in Eyebrows
Now let’s move on to some treatment approaches that may be helpful.
Short Discussion of Potential Treatments
The internet is full of potential treatments for getting rid of dandruffs on the eyebrows. Many of which are purely speculative and don’t have much facts to back up the usefulness.
Claims exist for a variety of herbal concoctions, topical oils, supplement combinations and a vast variety of dietary recommendations. But after years of experimenting with a significant amount of these, I have come to realize that there are only a few that appear to be of any use in the majority of cases.
Some of these are made in labs and are part of various commercial products. While, a others are natural approaches that can carry the same level of relief without the myriad of possible side effects.
Pyrithione zinc (sometimes referred to as zinc pyrithione) is one of the most popular and most researched approaches to treating dandruff (seborrheic dermatitis). It is a metal complex developed as an antifungal by researchers in the 1930’s.
One of the biggest benefits of pyrithione zinc for many of it’s users is the fact that it may also help restore hair growth (9). And this fact, has been discussed in greater detail in a previous post: Reversing Seborrheic Dermatitis and Hair Loss.
Pyrithione Zinc Containing Shampoos
Pyrithione zinc is widely available in it’s shampoo form and most commonly sold by the brand Head and Shoulders. With availability in recent years drastically increasing as many other companies have released their own dandruff shampoos containing pyrithione zinc.
Usage on the eyebows is straight forward. Simply apply a bit of shampoo onto the eyebrow, gently massage into the skin, leave on for a few minutes and wash off with water. However, you need to be very careful, as getting the shampoo into the eye will cause irritation.
Pyrithione Zinc Containing Creams
In addition to the various pyrithion zinc containing shampoo, there are also some creams that contain it. The availability of these creams isn’t the best, and the usually you need to buy online.
However, in some cases they may be more useful. Such as those where negative side effects to ingredients in the available shampoos present themselves. Or when a pyrithione zinc product needs to be left on the skin throughout the day (useful in aggressive cases).
My Own Experience With Zinc Pyrithione
In contrary to the high success rate that this treatment appears to have in the medical textbooks and research papers, my results were not so great.
The first product that I have attempted using to treat the dandruff on my eyebrows was a simple Head and Shoulders shampoo (more specifically, it was the 2-1 Classic). I was pleasantly surprised as the results came quick. The skin cleared up within days and I was left wondering why I didn’t try it sooner. And after my experience with products prescribed by my family doctors (first a hydrocortisone cream, next a antibiotic cream, and third an antifungal cream containing clotrimazole) I couldn’t be happier.
Unfortunately, these results didn’t last long. After about 1-2 weeks of usage, the effectiveness appeared to simply disappear. And my eyebrow dandruff returned (along with the seborrheic dermatitis on other parts of my face).
A short while after, I gave up and started testing other approaches. After a few months though, I decided to once again attempt using pyrithione zinc, but in alternative products. The most notable of which was a cream and soap I purchased from Amazon (Noble Formula). Again the results were the same, it would work really well for a short period of time, but then the dandruff always seemed to creep back.
Selenium sulfide is another popular antifungal agent that is now being used in a variety of shampoos. The most popular of these is Selsun Blue. But many other companies have released their own version (even Head and Shoulders has one).
In general, companies appear to market it as a stronger alternative to pyrithione zinc (Head and Shoulders calls their version a clinic strength dandruff shampoo). Yet, the effectiveness of selenium sulfide has been documented to be about the same as pyrithione zinc (10). Regardless of this, there are people across the web that have claimed that selenium sulfide has helped when pyrithione zinc containing products failed.
Using Selenium Sulfide Shampoo in Eyebrows
Using selenium sulfide shampoo for eyebrow dandruff is not different then using a pyrithione zinc shampoo. Simply massage a small amount of shampoo in to the skin, leave on for a few minutes and rinse of with water (making sure to not get it into the eye).
Is Selenium Sulfide A Safe Treatment Method?
It’s safety profile doesn’t appear to be as strong as it’s two main competitors (zinc pyrithione and ketoconazole) (11) and the potential for side effects is more significant (12). In addition to this, creams containing selenium sulfide are no where to be seen, suggesting it may not be suitable for extended application.
Based on this knowledge, I have never personally attempted any selenium sulfide products. If did plan on using one, I would have been very careful to start (testing on small parts of the skin) and would be very strict with how long I left it on my skin.
Ketoconazole is one of the most documented dandruff treatments that exist today. It first came into existence in 1976 when a group of scientists tried to improve on the azole antifungals available at the time (miconazole, econazole, and clotrimazole) (13).
It is available in a wide range of options, from shampoos and creams, to even oral tablets. And clinical trials demonstrate it is a superior alternative to both pyrithione zinc and selenium sulfide (14).
Arguably the most popular ketoconazole product today is a shampoo by name of Nizoral. It’s widely available in stores across North America and is commonly sold without prescription. However, other products that contain ketoconazole also exist on the market.
Using a ketoconazole shampoo on the eyebrows is exactly the same as with the other two options described above. Massage a small amount into the eyebrows, let sit for a few minutes and rinse of with water making sure to avoid contact with the eyes.
Similar to pyrithione zinc, ketoconazole is also available in cream formulations. However, the availability of these is much more limited and a prescription is required.
The instructions for different creams depend on the ingredients used and the concentration of ketoconazole. Use the cream as described on the instructions that should accompany it.
How Safe is Ketoconazole
More recent investigations have reveled that it oral ketoconazole can have negative effects on that liver that far outweigh any potential benefits (15). This led to a ban on it’s usage in the in several countries (China, Australia) and a decline in popularity for oral prescriptions in the USA (FDA withdraw it’s usage for Candida and dermatophyte infections).
Despite of it’s decline in oral prescriptions, ketoconazole is still widely used in topical applications. And clinic trials appear to show less side effects and complications when compared to selenium sulfide (16).
My Experience With Using Ketoconazole on the Eyebrows
My attempts at using Nizoral shampoo to combat the dandruff in the eyebrows where limited. And I had to give up after just a few treatment attempts.
It was very drying for my skin and caused the eyebrow hairs to feel extremely unhealthy. This came as surprise, as I had high hopes for this antifungal agent after seeing some of the research behind it.
Another widely available antifungal agent is coal tar. And it’s usage goes back more then 2000 years (17). It is used in a variety of shampoos, creams, soaps and lotions.
Coal tar is actually a by product of coal and is produced at high temperatures. This makes it much more complex then synthesized antifungal agents (such as pyrithione zinc, selenium sulfide, ketoconazole, etc) as it is actually a combination of over 10,000 various other compounds (18).
It’s effectiveness has been compared to that of ketoconazole against malassezia (19). However, it’s usage against dandruff (seborrheic dermatitis) does not seem to be as popular amongst the scientific community. This may potentially be attributed to it’s strong odor, potential adverse reactions (which include tar folliculitis, contact dermatitis, and general irritation) or possible carcinogenic properties (20).
Coal Tar Shampoos
The most popular coal tar product is a shampoo formulation made by Neutrogena called T-Gel. It is sold in stores across North America and does not require a prescription. Additionally, many other shampoos are available on Amazon and various other online outlets.
Using coal tar shampoos on the eyebrows is identical to other antifungal preparations discussed. Apply to skin, let soak in for a few minutes, and rinse off (avoiding the eyes).
Coal Tar Creams and Lotions
In addition to coal tar shampoos, creams appear to be highly available as well. Leaving the coal tar on the skin, should in theory improve its antifungal ability and in turn improve results. However, due to it’s dark color and ability to stain the skin, it may darken the treated area of skin.
My Own Experience With Coal Tar
Out of all the treatment approaches discussed so far, my results with coal tar were the most impressive. When used on the eyebrows, it helped control the flaking, reduce inflammation and didn’t dry the skin as much as other antifungal products I had used.
And I actually exclusively used Neutrogena T-Gel to manage my facial seborrheic dermatitis for several months. Thought it worked quite well, but I grew afraid that it might have negative long term effects on my skin. This belief was rooted in the fact that it seemed to be making my skin quite sensitive and pale looking (lacking any kind of vibrance).
Topical Steroids – Corticosteroids
Corticosteroids are a class of steroid hormones produced within the body itself. They are used by the body in a wide variety of biological processes (from immune response to behavior modulation).
Due to their broad range of action, scientists are able to use external corticosteroids to module various natural bodily functions. And synthesized versions of these hormones are being used to treat for a variety of skin diseases.
Hydrocortisone is a synthesized version of the hormone cortisol. Low potency hydrocortisone are often prescribed for the treatment of dandruff on areas of the skin such as the eyebrows (21).
Potential Side Effects of Long Term Hydrocortisone Usage
Their popularity for the treatment of dandruff (seborrheic dermatitis) appears to be linked to how quickly they can produce results. However, long term usage is associated with a variety of negative effects, including:
- Atrophy – breakdown and degeneration of cells
- Telangiectasias – appearance of small veins near skin surface (also referred to as spider veins)
- Perioral dermatitis – small itchy tender bumps accompanied by general skin irritation
As a result, only short term usage of hydrocortisone products is advised. And this fact makes their usage for dandruff treatment contradictory as long term maintenance is often required (22).
My Experience With Hydrocortisone
A hydrocortisone cream was actually one of the first thing I used to try and treat my seborrheic dermatitis. This was even before I knew what it was that I was dealing with and at the time it was only visible on the right side of my nose.
After a week of usage, the small patch of flaking I had at the time disappeared and I thought that was that. However, as usage was stopped the issue quickly returned. Luckily, I was quick to learn about the potential dangerous of long term usage and never attempted any other hydrocortisone products since.
Throughout history, honey has been recognized for its antimicrobial and wound-healing properties (23). It is widely available, well tolerable, and highly delicious.
Raw honey is a a term used to described honey in it’s crude form without any of the wax being filtered out. Which is believed to result in enhanced antimicrobial ability and improve it’s potential results.
It’s ability to actually resolve dandruff (seborrheic dermatitis) was actually demonstrated in a small scale study carrier out in 2001 (24). And individuals across the internet have since reported great results.
Using Raw Honey on the Eyebrows
To use raw honey for the eyebrows you must first dilute the honey with water to make the consistency more fluid. This can be done by combination about mixing 9 parts honey (90%) to 1 part warm water (10%) in a small container. Once prepared, simply spread the mixture on the eyebrows and leave on for 2-3 hours and rinse off. This procedure must then be repeated every second day for several weeks, after which maintenance applications of twice as week are recommended.
Additional comments on the honey method:
- Adding to much water may decrease honeys antimicrobial properties (25)
- There appears to be some variation in antimicrobial activity of various honeys (26), as a result some honeys may produce superior results
- The antimicrobial activity of most honeys appears to be related to its ability for topical hydrogen peroxide production (27)
My Experience Using Raw Honey
My attempts using raw honey to treat my eyebrow dandruff were quite good. After several treatments, all signs of flaking subsided and skin appeared to return to normal.
The biggest issues were related to the difficult of this treatment approach (required me to have sticky honey on my face for long durations every other day). In addition to this, the stickiness of the honey resulted in frequent removal of eyebrow hairs.
Capylic acid is a medium chain fatty acid that is naturally present in the oil extracted from coconuts and the fruit of the oil palm. It’s usage in the cosmetic industry is substantial and it is found in various moisturizers and ointments.
Though not officially recognized by the medical community as a viable treatment approach to dandruff (seborrheic dermatitis), caprylic acid has been shown to posses significant antifungal potential against malassezia (28). As a result, products containing enough caprylic acid may be useful in resolving dandruff.
My Experience With Caprylic Acid
After my most successful treatment approach (using Cetpahil Restoraderm products) ceased to stop working, I decided to investigate why it may have worked in the first place. As studying the ingredients list, I had come to the conclusion that it may have been the caprylic acid content of these products which resulted in their effectiveness.
Based on this finding, I decided to try and create my own formulation witch contained caprylic acid, but a significantly stronger concentration. This experimentation resulted in a solution that has been working for me since the summer of 2015 and I’ve documented my experience here: My Seborrheic Dermatitis Skin Regimen 2.0.
An approach submitted by an early member of the SkinDrone community, First discovered in 1950 and considered one of the most important medications in a basic health system by the World Health Organization, nystatin is one of the todays most popular antifungals.
It’s usage for the treatment of dandruff (seborrheic dermatitis) does not appear to be very popular amongst the medical community (other antifungals seem to be preferred). Though, it does appear to be effective against the malassia fungus (29).
Nevertheless, based on the feedback this treatment method has received, nystatin may be an excellent alternative to many of the more popular antifungals.
Acquiring a Nystatin Cream
The availability of nystatin preparations is fairly limited and a prescription is required in many countries. As a result, a consultation with a medical professional may be required.
However, SkinDrone readers have suggested obtaining the cream online via Amazon or eBay. Not sure what the legal implications of this would be, but it may be worth the risk.
Additional Notes on Nystatin
- There appear to be some malassezia species which are resistance to nystatin (30)
- The original submission for this treatment approach can be found here: Nystatin A Potential Seborrheic Dermatitis Treatment
Various Other Treatments Exist
In addition to the treatment methods described above many other approaches exist. Unfortunately, covering them all in detail here is not very practical. Instead, they are provided here for reference (one’s previously discussed are linked):
- Apple Cider Vinegar
- Sea Salt
- Baking Soda
- Various Other Azole Antifungals (Bifonazole, Miconazole, Fluconazole, etc.)
- Lithium Succinate
- Benzyol Peroxide
- Propylene Glycole
Additional Tips for Usage Around the Eyes
The majority of the approaches that aim at resolving dandruff usually employ some sort of antifungal agent. As a result, it is very important to avoid contact with the eyes during treatment. The following recommendations may be useful:
- Always thoroughly wash hands before and after each treatment
- If a solution is left on the skin for an extended amount of time, keep a napkin handy and remove any excess residue that may by running down towards the eyes
- If using any solution that has a strong odor, try to avoid getting too close to the eye as odor contact alone could lead to irritation
- Natural does imply that the treatment is completely safe, exercise caution irrelevant of how natural the treatment approach may be
- When starting a new treatment approach, always spot test on small area of skin (preferably low visibility)
Additional Areas of Interest
The treatment approaches discussed above mainly targeted the topical control of malassezia. However, there are other aspects of eyebrow dandruff treatment which may also be quite important once malassezia is controlled. These other relevant topics are discussed next.
Minimizing Hair Loss/Shedding
If dandruff in the eyebrows is allowed to progress long enough, significant hair loss is likely. In order to help reverse this, stimulating hair growth may be beneficial. And a previous post on the website discussed this in significant detail. This article can be found here: [post id=”899″][/post].
Some relevant highlights from that article:
- Pyrithione zinc and ketoconazole have been shown to improve hair growth
- Increasing stimulation to the hair follicle may improve nutrient delivery and result in improved hair growth
- Various supplements are likely not as useful as some other website may portray them
- Research in this area mainly deals with deficiencies and how they may contribute to hair loss
- Minoxidil is one of the most popular products for stimulating hair growth, however as with most medication, potential side effects exists
Reducing Sebum Production
Since the malassezia fungus requires lipids for its existence (which is acquires from our sebum), it may be beneficial to reduce the level of sebum output. Factors that appear to have the most significant effect on sebum production include:
- Retinol (Vitamin A) levels in the body may assist in regulating sebum production (31)
- Drastic changes in blood sugar (high glycemic load) and the resulting insulin spikes appear to result in increased sebum production (32)
- Hormone levels in the body appear to have a direct connection to sebum production, however the relationship is complex and difficult to control (33)
- Dairy consumption may have a direct influence on IGF (insulin like growth factor) production resulting in increase sebum production (34)
Improving Skin Barrier Function
As discussed in the beginning of this article malassezia fungus is present even on the skin of health individuals. Yet it only causes issues in only a portion of the population. As a result some researchers have argued that skin barrier issues may be an important factor in determining weather or not an individual is effected by dandruff (seborrheic dermatitis).
Based on this, it may be beneficial to improve the skin barrier, Which might in-turn reduce skin sensitivity, to the by-products of the malassezia feeding cycle (documented to be the main irritant causing the dandruff).
Currently, various products on the market have been specifically designed to improve skin barrier function. Many of these products target the facial skin making them a perfect fit for targeting dandruff in the eyebrows.
The best part is that users have reported significant improvements in the state of their dandruff from these types of products alone (without using any antifungal agents).
Some of the Most Popular Skin Barrier Repair Products
Here is a list of some of the most popular skin barrier repair products (based on internet discussion and various comments on this website):
- Cetaphil Restoraderm (worked really well for me)
- Gold Bond Ultimate Healing Lotion (used with relatively good results as well)
- Avene Skin Recovery Cream
- La Roche-Posay Cicaplast Baume B5
- EpiCeram (prescription required)
Results for skin barrier repair creams appear to be quite mixed. What works for one person, doesn’t always work for another. Thus, acquiring free product samples from your local pharmacy may be a good way to test a large range of products without spending too much money.
This article covered many aspects of dandruff in the eyebrows and how to best deal with it. Here are some of the key points for reference:
- Malassezia is a fungus which resides on the skin of the majority of humans and feeds off of our skins natural oils
- Majority of research suggests dandruff is caused by the by-products (oleic free fatty acids to be exact) of the malassezia fungus
- Individual sensitivity to these fatty acids varies and this appears to determine weather or not the person experiences dandruff
- Controlling the malassezia population using antifungals can provide quick relief and is the most common approach to treatment
- Continuous maintenance is often required when using antifungals
- Topical steroids are often very effective, but long term usage can result in many negative effects
- Reducing sebum production may be a useful approach for malassezia reduction
- Improving skin barrier function may make the skin less sensitive to malassezia by-products and relieve symptoms without need for antifungal
- A combined approach (skin barrier repair and antifungal treatment) may be useful for quick long lasting results
Hopefully, this article has provided enough information on dandruff (seborrheic dermatitis). And may help you resolve your eyebrow dandruff once and for all.
If you have any tips, recommendations, or simply want to share your experience about dandruff in eyebrows, please feel free to join the conversion using the comments section below.
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