Infantile seborrheic dermatitis, more commonly known as cradle cap, is a scalp condition common among babies from birth, sometimes lasting up to a few years of age. While there isn’t a definite answer to what causes cradle cap, we know that it is not due to an allergy or bad hygiene. It is more likely that cradle cap results from overactive sebaceous glands producing too much oil and clogging the pores on the scalp. It’s suspected that this is probably due to the mother’s hormones remaining in the baby’s system after birth. At the same time, other studies have shown that babies who have cradle cap probably have a family member diagnosed with eczema or asthma.
Cradle cap is distinguished by the crusty or oily patches of skin on the baby’s head and, while it may look painful, it doesn’t hurt the baby at all. Cradle cap skin flakes are most commonly found on the scalp but can be in other places such as the face, behind the ears, in the diaper area, and the armpits. Other signs of cradle cap are skin flakes and possible mild redness on the scalp. Here are a few options to try to treat your newborn’s cradle cap.
How to Treat Cradle Cap
1. DO NOT SCRATCH!
First of all, do not scratch or pick at it. It may feel tempting to pick at the loose skin but avoid it. Scratching the flakes off is the wrong way to remove the skin; other options will promote healing and take the dead skin away.
2. Wash baby’s hair once a day.
Shampoo baby’s hair once a day with a mild shampoo and loosen the scales with a mild bristled brush, even a toothbrush, then rinse the shampoo out. If a mild shampoo isn’t working your doctor may prescribe something like an adult dandruff shampoo, but be cautious to not get it into the baby’s eyes because it will cause irritation.
3. Petroleum Jelly or Coconut Oil
If the scales don’t loosen gently, rub petroleum jelly or coconut oil onto the scalp. Let it soak in for a few minutes to a few hours, then brush and shampoo baby’s hair as usual. Make sure to rinse all of the oil out, or the cradle cap may get worse. Coconut oil is a great option because it is also an antifungal that helps avoid the cradle cap turning into a fungal problem.
4. Hydrocortisone Cream
5. Baking Soda Paste
Using a baking soda paste is another cheap home remedy option that will loosen the flakes. Mix one part baking soda to single part water to make a baking soda paste. Place it on baby’s scalp and let it sit for a few moments, then use a comb or baby brush to take away the skin.
6. Shea Butter
Shea butter melts and quickly absorbs into the skin without leaving a greasy residue on the scalp. It is a great moisturizer and full of vitamin A, promoting healing and prevention.
7. Take a Vitamin B Supplement
If you are nursing, taking vitamin B (biotin) is important for healthy skin. Typically, we get enough vitamin B from our diet, but nursing or pregnant moms are sometimes deficient in this area. Adding Omega-3s and vitamin D to the diet is excellent for overall skin health, which will then transfer into baby’s diet as well. There is no real evidence that this works to heal cradle cap, but at the very least, you can discuss it with your doctor to see what is right for you.
8. Turn on the Humidifier
Putting a humidifier in the nursery is a good idea regardless of having cradle cap, but certainly helps when they do have cradle cap. Humid air keeps skin from drying out and therefore the scalp won’t release sebum to moisturize the skin because it won’t be dried out. And less sebum means less cradle cap!
9. Try Switching Formulas
10. Introduce a Probiotic
Help boost baby’s gut flora by adding an infant probiotic to their bottle or using a specific nipple cream if you’re breastfeeding, or mom can add high-quality fermented foods into her diet such as yogurt, sauerkraut, kefir, and kombucha. Having a healthy gut helps the body accept the nutrients from the good vitamins you add to your diet.
When to Call the Doctor about Cradle Cap
- If treating cradle cap at home does not improve the condition of the scalp
- If there is inflammation or infection present: the doctor might prescribe antibiotics, a mild steroid-based cream, or antifungal soap.
- Affected areas spread
- Diaper rash occurs
- If the baby develops a fungal ear infection
- Signs of thrush appear
Working through cradle cap is not always pretty, and picking at your baby’s scalp for months on end can seem daunting and even downright gross. But there is hope! This is an easy problem, and unless it gets out of control cradle cap should clear up within a few months.
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