What This Hideous Rash on my Face Taught Me

This October I developed seborrheic dermatitis on my face. I’ve had it before, to varying degrees, and each time it returns I feel a renewed sense of dejection. It’s angry and red and it spreads, like spilled ink, from the corner of my nose. Sometimes it spills down my chin. Once, for a brief time, I had it on my entire face. Hemingway had something like it; this is how his buddy, the novelist and journalist José Luis Castillo-Puche, described it:

“The angry red streak running from his nose to his cheek, the rash of little whitish pustules that sloughed off like dandruff…the bright red patch, extending from the bridge of his nose almost down to his mouth and up to his eyes.”


I developed seborrheic dermatitis for the first time as an adult when I returned home from my honeymoon in Barcelona, freshly diagnosed with type-1 diabetes. It was a rough time. The dermatitis seemed to know this; it stuck around for the better part of two years, a glaring symbol of my new life with illness. I tried everything: Elidel, steroid lotions, EFT. It just got worse.

When the dermatitis finally spread to my face, I went into Whole Foods and spent nearly $100 on a natural skincare regime from MyChelle Dermacueticals. It cleared, finally. When I met the founder and creator of MyChelle, Myra Michelle Eby, a year later at a Natural Products Expo in D.C., I burst into tears.

“Thank you,”  I said, embracing her.

(I still think MyChelle is the best skincare line in the world, although, as you will see, my seborrheic dermatitis cure promotes a hands-off approach).

Unfortunately, in my experience, seborrheic dermatitis shares a distinctive feature of many autoimmune illnesses: It comes and goes, sometimes independent of treatment; and often each relapse requires a new, novel form of treatment.

The rash returned last winter. I was in Asheville at the time, at my residency session for my MFA program. I was living in a dorm. I was especially sensitive to my appearance at the time because James Franco had just enrolled in the program. I remember walking into the reception the very first night of the residency. I had taken a Percocet (the beginning of residency was always an especially anxious time). I saw James. Jesus, I thought, that guy is handsome. Later I walked into the bathroom and looked in the mirror. Jesus, I thought, investigating my dermatitis, I’m ugly.

One night we had a long face to face discussion. We talked about Emily Dickinson, kissing Sean Penn, and my skin problems. James, a perfect gentleman, stopped the conversation twice to say, “Dude, I don’t even notice it.”

Equating my dermatitis with Harry Osborn’s horribly burnt face in Spiderman III, I asked James what it was like for a handsome man to appear so disfigured on screen.

“Dude,” he said. “It was Spiderman.”

Last winter’s outbreak was minor. I came home from Asheville and took hydrocortisone (a steroid cream). The dermatitis cleared up in a week.


This recent outbreak was different. When I first noticed it, in early October, I again tried the hydrocortisone. It worked, at first, but then it seemed to start spreading.

I looked in the mirror and felt ugly. I thought: It will never go away. I complained, unfairly, to my wife (who herself suffers psoriasis).

Days and weeks lapsed without my consent. I started to lose my optimism; my integrity eroded. I ignored my reliable faith in natural healing. Instead, I sought pharmaceuticals: Desonide, a steroid cream. The cream worked, at first, but then my dermatitis got WAY worse. Hemingway bad.

Apparently, if steroids are used too long, you develop additional skin problems. I learned the hard way.

Throughout this time, in the immemorial fashion of frantic sick people, I searched the internet for a “cure.” The internet is a terrible place to look for a “cure.” Balanced perspectives on skin problems are shockingly rare. Message boards are crammed with pessimistic complaints. Thousands of sites suggest miracle cures that simply do not work. Worse, drug companies pay massively for advertising.

Still, inspired by my internet findings, I washed my face with Selsun Blue. That helped a bit. I actually tried tanning! (In an electronic ballast tanning booth; finding the booth was an incredible hassle.) That helped a bit until I developed a secondary rash on my stomach.

I visited my family doctor. He said, “Quit the steroid lotion. Problem solved.”

“Really?” I asked.

I urged him to prescribe another pharmaceutical treatment, one that I had assiduously researched: Nizoral foam.

Nizoral is a potent anti-fungal. When ingested, it has been associated with hepatic toxicity, including some deaths. The foam worked, a bit. Then, once again, my dermatitis got worse.


In his life-changing, soul-changing book, Re-Visioning Psychology, James Hillman writes, “We owe our symptoms an immense debt. The soul can exist without its therapists, but not without its afflictions.”

I’m reminded of this quote when I suffer illness. I’m reminded of my sulking; my complaints. And I’m shocked, almost appalled, by my behavior. Sometimes, in the midst of illness, I actually do realize that my suffering can be a good thing, for my growth and maturity and anti-narcissism. But still, illness bums me out. I mean I wake up after a restless night of sleep (I never, ever sleep well and typically I wake six-ten times a night to pee), check my blood sugar (the first test of ten or twelve tests for the day), and look in the mirror, only to discover I’m much uglier than my dreams had led me to believe!

This is the moment I lose my integrity.

I think: You know what, I have a fucking lot of illness for a 33-year-old guy; every person, every fucking single person in the world, sometimes hits the point where enough is enough, and, well, I’m entitled to say, “Enough is fucking enough,” because of my illnesses, because I’ve been through so much illness, so early, and no one, exactly no one, I know, understands what it’s like to be a 33-year-old guy living with type-1 diabetes, ulcerative colitis, Raynaud’s disease, and some fucking skin rash, not to mention I’m allergic to shellfish and have never even known the pleasure of slurping a fresh oyster!

It’s funny, though. Standing in front of the mirror, I drive myself to this point—this point of extreme dejection—and then something small happens.

In my complaining, I catch a glimpse of myself as a child, a child throwing a tantrum. My behavior is laughable, really. So I smile, in spite of myself. Then I smile, again, just to see what I look like. I start making faces: ugly faces, happy faces, stupid faces. The dermatitis is still there, of course. But, suddenly, instead of complaining, I’m making fun or myself. And I suppose this is when my heart starts floating, just a bit; it sort of just bounces up, and I’m aware, however briefly, of the possibility of change.


Change. In terms of my recent battle with seborrheic dermatitis, change means relaxing; it means re-finding my integrity. It means taking a deep breath and considering the blindingly obvious.

I’ve successfully treated seborrheic dermatitis on my scalp for ten years. I’ve performed the same routine, two times a week, every week, for ten years. What I do is simple: I wash my hair. I apply about 1 tablespoon of extra virgin coconut oil. I leave it on for a few hours. I wash it out. Why not try it on my face? Seborrheic dermatitis often affects both the face and scalp and both areas manifest the same disease process.

Friday night, I rubbed a little extra virgin coconut oil on my face. Saturday, I woke up and my skin had improved. Last night, Saturday night, I repeated the routine. This morning I woke up my skin had essentially cleared. After weeks of suffering, after weeks of complaints and internet research, weeks of steroids and antifungals weeks of just feeling ugly—my skin had improved with two applications of extra virgin coconut oil.

(Update: I now believe that a permanent natural seborrheic dermatitis cure exists: yogurt masks. I have used nothing but water and yogurt masks on my face for over four years and my skin has remained remarkably clear. Please see my recipe on my post “Seth’s Beauty Secrets Revealed“).

The simplicity of it is absurd. Albeit, not as absurd as my behavior.

Illness is worthless unless you learn from it. My lesson, of course, has nothing to do with extra virgin coconut oil. More likely, it has something to do with maturity, how I might grow into that complicated, half-ugly, half-beautiful human being I’m meant to be. Probably, the goal is just a sort of unity. Obviously, I own a lot of ugliness, inside and out. But in my ugliness, I learn things. I learn about fighting. I learn about hope. Life handed me illness; it also gave me the capacity to fight. Life taught me the comeback. Moving on, I’ll try to remember this.

29 thoughts on “What This Hideous Rash on my Face Taught Me”

  1. Beautiful post Seth. And so much for me to connect with. Coincidentally, I just wrote about this myself. I don't suffer illness in the way you do, but I do suffer from something… alcoholism, self-abuse, fear… When I woke up four weeks ago with a swollen, broken face it was a terrible feeling: my vanity was undermined. My identity even, was threatened. And yet I realized, or was forced to admit, that this was nothing more than my outsides reflecting my insides. I was ugly inside, and this allowed me to see my true reflection. No more denial.

    Now that is my truth, not yours. I don't know why you become afflcited in the way you do, but I do hear you when you say: "This is the exact moment I lose my integrity". These things are sent to try us, to test our faith, and if you can ride through it, and rise above it as you do with humor, and wisdom then the world is full of hope once again.

    Your last paragraph here is utter joy to read.


    This was wonderful.

    I really enjoy reading about your trials and tribulations, Seth. You are a constant reminder that life, with it's many speed bumps that cause each of us to stop and take notice, is awesome. Your words always leave MY heart floating just a bit. I look up to you. Even though you have sometimes funky skin, which I've never actually seen, pick on waitresses about potatoes, which I've actually witnessed, leave me holding the wine while you urinate in parking garages, wear your wife's clothing, and walk down streets in nothing but your boxers, I still love you, my friend.

    Actually, I love you for those very reasons and many more. Because of your health, you're often in the gutter, but just as often looking at the stars, an ever growing collection of "season of triumphs".

    Whatcha eating?

  3. Eloquent, candid, honest. Keep writing – the medicine that would heal the wound, is IN the wound. But first we have to open the wound in order to extract the medicine. As Hillman also says, 'The wound becomes the womb.'

  4. Freaking Dermatitis. When I get "glutened" (as my doctor calls it) I break out in this stupid ass rash.

    But once again, your post has touched me. You have this way about you…you take this difficult and sometimes painful ailment and turn it into a light hearted subject.

    Your words make me smile 🙂

  5. hey seth, just want to know whether coconut oil still works on your skin or not, I'm applying coconut oil on my face, hope it will work like it does to you

  6. What a depressing nightmare facial seb derm is. The only thing that has ever worked for me and resulted in a 95 % cure is washing my face with 'born to be mild' that is all and nothing else. The zinc pyth does the job and is carried in a less irratating form than head and shoulders which is perfect for the face. I implore people to give it a go.

  7. Hi Seth,
    When you did use the coconut oil did you just apply it with a cotton ball? how long should I leave it on for? thanks.

  8. Hi Seth,

    I just bought the Mychelle 28spf sunscreen the other day. First product I'm trying from Mychelle. I know you now recommend only washing your face w/yogurt and no other products. But back when you did use Mychelle, which facewash and lotions did you use? thank you for your help!

  9. Hi anonymous,

    MyChelle makes products for all skin types. I think it's bet to use the products most suitable for your skin. That said, skin type aside, I love their Incredible Pumpkin Peel and Pumpkin Renew Cream. The peel especially seems to have an instantaneous effect on the skin: you'll feel luminous. I also used the White Cranberry Cleanser to good effect. Hope this helps!

  10. Hi Seth,
    Which kind of shampoo do you wash you hair with after you apply the coconut oil? I love your posts and thanks for all of your help!

  11. Thank you for this post, Seth. I've suffered chronic dermatitis on my hands since I was 14 and I've tried almost everything for them. However I'm 20 now and they seem to be worse than ever before. Recently I've also gotten a similar dermatitis type rash on my face which was coming and going for a few months and now wont go away at all. I get it all around my eyes including on my eye lids and also a little bit around my lips. I've tried moisturizers, steroid creams you name it and nothing helps it go away. I also work and see friends every day and therefore cover it up with make up to avoid stares and comments and total embarrassment in public but the rash even shows through the makeup after and hour and I still get comments. I also live in Australia therefore the heat doesn't help the pain. Its at the point now where I'm about to refuse going out in public at all. I try to stay optimistic but as you said its hard to stay that way for a long time and very easy to give up faith. I'm absolutely going to try coconut oil and your beauty secrets, hopefully they work for me as they have for you. Thanks again.

  12. You may like to research the GAPS diet by Dr Natasha McBride. Sounds to me that this will help all your other symptoms as well. x

  13. Hi Lisa! Thanks for reading. I'm sorry to hear about your dermatitis experience. Good luck with the remedies listed here. And please do not lose faith. With a little experimentation, you will likely find the remedy that works best for you!

  14. Thanks, Kerry. I learned about the GAPS diet a few years ago. It's actually quite similar to the diet I've followed for about four years now, to great benefit. At the time I wrote this post, I was essentially following the GAPS diet, without really knowing it. I did, however, eat spelt bread. When I eliminated gluten entirely, my skin symptoms improved immeasurably. Have you read about FODMAPS? This article might interest you: http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2014/11/03/grain

  15. I have had seborric dermatitis for years, and I was recommended to start using an alcohol free argan oil on my scalp. It HAS TO BE ALCOHOL FREE ARGAN OIL, because the alcohol will make your condition worse. Tried a bunch of brands, and the best and most natural one is the Somaluxe Argan Oil. I use it three times a week, and I barely get an itchy scalp anymore. Its 100% the way to go for seborric dermatitis.

  16. Hi, Kloe, thanks for your reply. I've heard good things about argan oil. I'm happy to hear that you found success. Thanks for the brand recommendation. I hope to update this post soon with recommendations from others. I'll include your comment.

  17. I also use Aubrey Organics and swear by them! I was diagnosed with Perioral Dermatitis and have been trying natural remedies too, one being the Virgin Cocunut Oil, and Aubrey Organics Calming Skin line. Apple Cider Vinegar mixed 4:1 water:vinegar for a toner too. I'll have to look into the MyChelle products. 🙂

  18. Hello there!
    Just read your post and completely understand your feelings. I had contact
    dermatitis more than 2 months ago. Ive visited 3 dermatologists already and
    they all agree than less is more and they had to cope with my anxiety (like
    yours!) to try tons of different products. So, according to the doctors its
    only chamomile tea compresses, pharmacy pure aloe vera cream and lotion and a
    sunblock. Now ive discovered colloidal oatmeal and im loving it! FDA, Mayo
    clinic, american dermatology association (and millions of common people) talk
    about colloidal oatmeal as a skin reliever and say it also has saponine to
    clean the skin. So now I finely grind oatmeal and mix it with chamomile tea and
    leave it on my face and neck for 15 or 30 or 5 minutes instead of any soap and
    rinse it and the redness is basically gone! There is still some bad rosacea,
    but the doctors say we have to wait till the dermatitis is gone… if it helps, don’t
    worry ure not alone!!! xoxo

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