I Was Diagnosed with Seborrheic Dermatitis and Here's How It Changed My Relationship with My Natural Hair

Brittany Williams experienced dandruff, itching and hair loss shortly after she gave birth to her son. After visiting a dermatologist, she was diagnosed with seborrheic dermatitis, a condition that affects your skin and scalp and often presents inflammatory symptoms like the ones listed. Since her natural hair has always played a vital role in her life, Williams had to learn new ways to work with this diagnosis and rebuild her relationship with her hair. 

This interview has been edited for length and clarity. 

I’ve Always Used My Hair to Express My Emotions.

Whether that’s wearing an afro or a braided mohawk or trying out a new color or haircut, my hair has always been my creative outlet. When I get my hair done, it affects my mood. When it’s colorful, I feel jovial. When it’s freshly cut, I feel fierce, and when I wear it in longer styles, I feel dainty and feminine. On the other hand, when my hair is in disarray, I feel like a couch potato in hibernation. Different styles bring out different emotions.

Before I Got Pregnant, I Decided to Shave My Head for the Last Time.

Over the past ten years, I’ve gone from trying to grow out my hair to completely shaving my head over four times. During my pregnancy, I was determined to finally grow long, healthy hair. I thought the next nine months would help my hair flourish, but postpartum was brutal. Three months after giving birth, my hair started thinning around my edges, which didn’t bother me too much at first because I knew it would grow back. But then my hair began falling out rapidly and my scalp was flaking regularly. The flaking led to itching and scratching, which quickly escalated to stinging and scabbing. At first, I speculated that it was psoriasis, eczema or some other skin condition, but I couldn’t pinpoint what it was since they have similar symptoms.

It Took Two Years for a Doctor to Diagnose My Scalp Condition.

While I attribute most of the waiting to finding a dermatologist and cementing an appointment, my first experience ended up not being too helpful. The first dermatologist I saw looked at my scalp and told me it looked “pretty healthy,” before prescribing me a bunch of medications without a second thought. I wasn't given any official diagnosis or even proper recommendations for a routine, so I decided to get a second opinion. This dermatologist actually took the time to assess my scalp and ask questions that led to the diagnosis that I had seborrheic dermatitis. Knowing this was a huge relief. I finally had an answer to my long-standing issues. Now that I knew what was wrong, I could properly treat my symptoms and research all there is to know about seborrheic dermatitis.

I Started Trying Different Scalp Products, But Nothing Worked.

My dermatologist prescribed me ketoconazole shampoo. This shampoo cleared up my scalp, but it caused my hair to feel super dry and brittle. These new issues made it feel like I was trapped in a never-ending battle. As soon as I’d find a solution for one thing, it would cause another issue.

I started feeling like my only option was to cut my hair off. This time felt completely different from the previous times I shaved my head. Before, I felt a sense of relief, now I felt defeated. I truly didn’t want to cut my hair, but I didn’t know what else to do. Having to start over again devastated me because of the time and effort I’d put into growing my hair out.

I Wasn’t Going to Stay Defeated, So I Began Cataloging My Hair Journey to Keep Me On Track.

First, I visited an allergist and found out I had a mild allergy to wheat, eggs, rye and milk. I also avoided using products like heavy oils, butters and petroleum jelly because these ingredients cultivate fungus on the scalp. It’s surprising how many products have those ingredients in them. I went from having a closet full of products to only being able to use two in my routine, but analyzing the ingredients and scaling back accordingly has helped prevent any flare-ups.

Shortly after, I found out that I was allergic to acrylic, which put other things into perspective. It made sense why certain hairstyles caused such intense reactions for me. My allergy to acrylic (which is found in synthetic hair, yarn, etc.) would cause contact dermatitis, which then caused a flareup of my seborrheic dermatitis. Knowing these things narrowed down the products and styles I could try, which also meant that I had to rethink how I expressed myself through my hair.

I Decided to Bring Protective Styles Back into My Life.

I used my hair as a form of expression for over a decade, so to no longer have that option felt like I lost part of myself. I knew that my hair grows the most when it’s locked because of how little I need to manipulate it and the simplicity of the products I use (usually just some water and oil on my ends). Though it’s not the style I want to wear all the time, it’s a style I had to settle for. There wasn’t much else I could do with my hair because of my allergies.

When I tried braids again, it was exciting because I was finally able to change things up. It also was good to see that applying a rice water spray had the greatest impact on my scalp. It wasn’t irritating and it didn't trigger any allergies. However, adding fake hair did cause a slight irritation (since it’s made of acrylic) but not nearly as much as it usually does. Since then, any protective style I do has to involve human hair or just my own hair. So far, I’ve done mini twists, cornrows, box braids— you name it, I’ve tried it.

It’s Been An Adjustment Living with Seborrheic Dermatitis.

I'm a very impulsive person, so when I see a style I like, I immediately start planning how I'm going to wear it. The only difference now is I find alternatives and consider how the style may affect my scalp. This limit on my creativity forces me to put my focus elsewhere like my hair health and length retention.

My routine now consists of low-manipulation styles, washing my hair 1-2 times a week and avoiding oils on my scalp. I even started working on my own hair tea to nourish my strands and scalp. I haven't quite gotten the formula down yet, but it's in the works.

I also give myself daily scalp massages to help circulate blood flow and gently lift any buildup (or flakes) from the scalp, which aids in hair growth. I hope my hair continues to grow healthily and I'd also like to create better home remedies for my scalp.

While my current routine is pretty boring, I'll take boring over a scalp flare-up any day. Before, I never really thought about my relationship with my hair outside of how I expressed myself through different styles. Now, I'm excited about reaching new hair goals and I'm grateful that my scalp is no longer irritated. I'm open to slowly introducing new styles that work for my hair, and with my scalp issues finally under control, I'm hopeful that I can finally grow my hair out.

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