You notice a patch of skin on your newborn baby’s head that looks odd and unattractive. What could have caused your perfect little one to have this imperfection? Did you do something to cause this unsightly patch?
Before you become alarmed, especially if you’re new to the parental world, your baby is most likely experiencing cradle cap, which is ultra common and although not visibly desirable, will not cause your bundle of joy any serious discomfort. If your baby was older, it would simply be called dandruff rather than cradle cap.
Often confused with infantile eczema, cradle cap doesn’t typically cause significant itching, which often occurs in cases of eczema. (1) Like eczema though, cradle cap is not contagious, and it’s not caused by poor hygiene. So breath easy and read on to learn how to naturally fix this common problem!
What Is Cradle Cap?
Cradle cap is the common term for infantile seborrheic dermatitis, a noninfectious skin condition that is very common in infants, typically beginning in the first weeks of life and then gradually going away after a few weeks or months. Most commonly, cradle cap causes crusty or oily patches on a baby’s scalp, hence the name.
Seborrheic dermatitis can also be found around a baby’s ears or eyebrows, on eyelids, in armpits and other creases like the groin. The skin patches can either be dry and flaky — similar to dandruff — or oily, thick, and yellowish or brown. The name seborrheic dermatitis comes from the fact that the condition occurs where there are the greatest number of oil-producing sebaceous glands on the body. (2)
Symptoms of Cradle Cap
Common signs of cradle cap include:
- Patches of scaling or thick crusts on the scalp
- Oily or dry skin covered with flaky white or yellowish/brownish scales
- Skin flakes (similar to dandruff)
- Sometimes mild redness
What Causes Cradle Cap?
Many say that the definitive cause of cradle cap isn’t presently known. A possible factor in the development of cradle cap may be hormones that pass from the mom to baby prior to birth. These transmitted hormones can cause overproduction of oil (sebum) in the oil glands and hair follicles.
The skin changes that occur with cradle cap are thought to result from an inflammatory response to a common skin organism, Malassezia yeast. (3) This yeast grows in the sebum along with bacteria. (4) Malassezia is the same yeast that is linked with adult dandruff, a skin disorder affecting 50 percent of the world population. (5)
For some babies, cradle cap can be a fungal infection, which likely is related to antibiotics given to the mother just before the infant’s birth. The infection could also be related to antibiotics routinely given to infants in hospitals during the first week of life.
The thing about antibiotics is that they kill both harmful and beneficial bacteria — and both adults and babies alike can develop antibiotic resistance. A baby needs this helpful bacteria to prevent the over growth of yeast, which causes a fungal infection.
For infants, fungus is mostly likely to show itself externally on the scalp (cradle cap), diaper area (fungal diaper rash or “jock itch”), ear (fungal ear infection, or an ear infection that does not respond to antibiotics), or in the mouth (oral thrush).
Cradle cap can also occur as a reaction to some baby shampoos or lotions, especially those that contain alcohol and other harsh ingredients not meant for a baby’s delicate skin. Sometimes, an allergy to formula or solid foods can also contribute to cradle cap.
8 Natural Remedies for Cradle Cap
Most of the time, cradle cap does not require medical intervention, and it will clear up on its own within a few months. So you actually don’t have to do anything to get rid of cradle cap.
If you want to make efforts to lessen the cradle cap or possibly speed its disappearance, then you always want to take the safe and natural route! That means not turning to over-the-counter cortisone or antifungal creams, which can be toxic to a baby’s delicate skin.
Let’s talk about some safe, natural and easy ways to help your baby’s cradle cap. These remedies are both very inexpensive and often highly effective at decreasing those lingering problem patches.
1. Use a Humidifier
Babies with cradle cap can often have dry, sensitive skin in general. By using a humidifier in your baby’s bedroom, you can provide more moisture in the air, which will help decrease skin dryness.
If you’re using air conditioning or heat, then your home and your baby’s skin could very likely benefit from some additional humidity in the air. Air conditioning and heating systems are both very drying. A humidifier can help improve overly dry air in the home.
2. Daily Brushing
Parents often want to do something to decrease the flakes produced as a result of cradle cap. I would recommend first massaging and then lightly brushing your baby’s scalp on a daily basis for optimal results. First, gently massage your baby’s scalp with your fingers to loosen the scales. Then lightly brush your baby’s scalp with a soft brush to furthen loosen the scales of the cradle cap area(s) and sweep them away.
3. Oil Treatment
Choose a pure oil like organic olive oil, coconut oil or almond oil. Put a small amount (about the size of a nickel) of oil in your hand and then rub it gently onto your baby’s scalp, making sure not to have it drip in the eyes. Leave the oil on for 15 minutes (or as long as you can manage). Next, comb out any flakes with a comb.
Once you have thoroughly remove any flakes, thoroughly wash the scalp with a natural and mild baby shampoo. You ideally don’t want to leave any oil behind to clog the pores.
4. Choose Baby Shampoo Wisely
Many parents have seen their baby’s cradle cap dramatically improve and quickly clear up after switching to a more natural and gentle shampoo. Many shampoos that are recommended for babies are actually dangerous shampoos for babies (or even adults!) because they are loaded with questionable and toxic ingredients. Any product that touches your baby’s scalp, or any other area of skin, should be as pure, natural and unquestionable as possible.
The Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep Cosmetics Database is an awesome resource to utilize for your baby and yourself. (7) You can search over 64,000 products to evaluate what you already own and to help you choose products for the future! The lower the score, the better and more gentle the shampoo will be for your baby’s scalp. Same thing goes for lotion, diaper balms, etc. The pristine and delicate skin of babies needs to be preserved with the use of the best healthy and natural products.
5. Resist Overwashing
Many doctors will advise daily shampooing for cradle cap and many parents will be tempted to follow such advise. But you might want to resist the temptation because overwashing can often cause the skin to significantly increase its oil production, which will only make your baby’s cradle cap worse. Children with skin conditions and sensitive skin often do best to bathe every two to three days. (8)
6. Moisturize Post Shampoo
After shampooing, apply a gentle (the less ingredients the better), natural moisturizer to your baby’s scalp. The fact that the scalp is still damp and warm will help to trap moisture in the skin. This can help to prevent the scalp from becoming dry and scaly or decrease any dryness and scaliness that is already present. Use a lotion or balm designed for babies with sensitive skin.
7. Diet Evaluation
Some pediatric experts recommend considering the baby’s diet if he or she has cradle cap. If a baby is not breastfed and consumes formula, cradle cap is sometimes caused by an allergy to baby formula.
If your baby has cradle cap along with red patches on the face and persistent diarrhea then it’s a good idea to talk to your doctor about switching to a formula that is healthier for your baby. (8) Check out my Goat’s Milk Baby Formula Recipe and Coconut Baby Milk Formula!
8. Try Baking Soda
Baking soda’s uses really and truly seem to be endless. For cradle cap, you can simply mix equal parts baking soda and water to form a paste. Apply the paste directly to the scalp and let it sit for a minute. Make it easier for yourself and apply the paste just before giving your baby a bath. That way you can rinse it off easily during the bath.
I would recommend this on a night that you skip shampooing. The baking soda will do a great job at cleaning the scalp in addition to getting rid of dryness and flakes.
Cradle Cap Cautions
When massaging or brushing your baby’s scalp to remove scales, make sure you do so very gently so you do not further inflame the problem areas.
If your baby’s cradle cap is severe, doesn’t respond to home treatments, or spreads to your baby’s face or body then see a pediatrician. Also seek medical attention if the cradle cap patches become very red, swollen, ooze or bleed.
You might be tempted to try dandruff shampoo for your baby’s cradle cap, or it might come recommended by a doctor. Beware that dandruff shampoos typically contain strong ingredients like salicylic acid, which is not recommended for use in children under two years of age. Instead, try my Homemade Rosemary Mint Shampoo which can address cradle cap and dandruff.
It’s also important to make sure your baby’s skin condition is not eczema or an allergic reaction to diet or body care products. Cradle cap is unlikely to continue beyond a child’s first birthday, but if it does then speak with your pediatrician.
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