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.1 It is distinguished by the crusty or oily patches of skin on the baby’s head. While it may look painful, it doesn’t hurt the baby. Cradle cap skin flakes are 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. If your baby has any of these symptoms, you may wonder what caused it and how to treat cradle cap.
While there isn’t a definite answer to what causes cradle cap, we know 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.1 At the same time, other studies have shown that babies with cradle cap probably have a family member diagnosed with eczema or asthma.2
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 remove the dead skin.
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 not to get it into the baby’s eyes because it will cause irritation.
3. Petroleum Jelly or Coconut Oil
Rub petroleum jelly or coconut oil onto the scalp if the scales don’t loosen gently. 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 the oil out, or the cradle cap may worsen. Coconut oil is an excellent option because it is also an antifungal that helps prevent the cradle cap from becoming a fungal problem.
4. Hydrocortisone Cream
5. Baking Soda Paste
A baking soda paste is another cheap home remedy option to loosen the flakes. Mix one part baking soda with one part water to make a baking soda paste. Place it on the baby’s scalp and let it sit for a few moments, then use a comb or baby brush to remove the skin.
6. Shea Butter
Shea butter melts and quickly absorbs into the skin without leaving a greasy residue on the scalp. It is an excellent 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 evidence 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 it 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
If the cradle cap is persistent, it could be linked to allergens in the formula used. Ask your doctor if switching to a formula with lower allergic proteins would work.
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. Mom can add high-quality fermented foods such as yogurt, sauerkraut, kefir, and kombucha into her diet. A healthy gut helps the body accept the nutrients from the 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 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.