The appearance of scaly yellowish skin on your baby’s scalp can scare any new parent. But don’t worry just yet! Cradle cap is not contagious nor is it an allergic reaction. Most importantly, it’s not dangerous. A common and harmless condition known as seborrheic dermatitis is at the root of cradle cap. It usually appears in babies in the first two or three months after birth and mostly clears up by the time the baby is a year old. In some instances, however, cradle cap can be seen in toddlers as old as three years.1 2 Causes for cradle cap can range from a fungal growth known as malassezia to high levels of residual hormones from the mother that cause overproduction of sebum.3
Cradle cap doesn’t generally cause discomfort or itching. So, if you notice swelling or if your baby’s scratching their head, it could point to others conditions
Cradle cap can look different from baby to baby. It’s mostly found on the scalp but can also affect your baby’s eyelids, ears, nose, eyebrows, neck, or groin. It may affect skin folds too – for instance, in the armpits or back of the knees. Look out for signs like yellowish crusts on affected areas, greasy patches of skin generally covered with yellow or white scales, and flaking or scaling of skin. Sometimes, your baby’s skin might also appear reddish when the scales start to flake.You may notice hair loss too as the hair comes away with skin flakes. However, the hair generally grows back once the cradle cap goes away.6
Cradle cap generally clears up on its own in a few months. However, here’s what you can do to help it along.
id="gently-massage-the-scalp">1. Gently Massage The Scalp
Use a soft toothbrush, a soft hair brush, or just your fingers to gently massage and loosen crusty skin.
2. Try Mineral Oil
If the crusts do not come off easily, you can loosen them by massaging your baby’s scalp with mineral oil. Leave it in for about an hour before shampooing.
3. Rinse With A Mild Shampoo Or Ayurvedic Hair Cleanser
Wash daily with a mild shampoo as long as your baby has scales, making sure all the shampoo is rinsed off. Once the scales go away, shampooing a couple of times a week should suffice.
Look for shampoos that are mild and non-allergenic. If you’d like to opt for more natural alternatives, look for products with rosemary oil, coleus oil, clove oil, pepper extract, neem extract, or basil extract. However, babies have sensitive skin that can easily have an allergic reaction to ingredients. So be sure to rule out any allergies through a patch test before opting for a natural hair cleanser.7
Do keep in mind that cradle cap can come back even after it disappears as your baby’s oil glands may continue to produce excess oil.
4. Brush Hair Gently
Brush your baby’s hair with a soft, clean brush after you shampoo, as well as a few times through the day to get rid of scaly skin. Make sure you clean the brush with soap and water to remove scalp oil or scales.8 9
5. Avoid Foods The Baby Might Be Allergic To
Studies have found that infants with cradle cap got rid of all their symptoms within a week when allergenic foods were removed from their diet. Do find out what your child may be allergic to and eliminate it from their diet. And this holds true if you’re breastfeeding as well.10
6. Avoid Using Natural Plant Oils For Treating Cradle Cap
Saturated Fats In Olive Oil Or Coconut Oil Promote Yeast Growth
Oils like olive oil and coconut oil are commonly recommended for softening scales in cradle cap. But they contain saturated and unsaturated fatty acids. According to research, malassezia, the yeast associated with cradle cap, uses saturated fatty acids to grow. Excess unsaturated fatty acids may also cause inflammation and scaling. It might, therefore, be better to stick to mineral oil or petroleum jelly, which are not digestible by yeast, for dealing with cradle cap.11 12
Tea Tree, Eucalyptus, And Cinnamon Oil Are Too Harsh On Sensitive Skin
Some essential oils like tea tree oil, eucalyptus oil, and cinnamon oil act against malassezia, the yeast associated with seborrhoeic
When To See A Doctor
You should seek medical attention for your baby in the following cases:
- The symptoms don’t go away or seem to get worse after home care.
- The condition spreads to your baby’s face
- Sometimes, the skin covered by crusts can get infected. Check if affected patches of skin ooze pus or fluid, become painful, or very red. This might indicate an infection which needs to be treated by your baby’s doctor. If your baby has fever, it could indicate a worsening infection.18 19
|↑1, ↑3||Cradle Cap. The Nemours Foundation.|
|↑2, ↑6, ↑19||Cradle cap. Department of Health & Human Services.|
|↑4||Cradle cap. National Health Service.|
|↑5||Eczema in Children. American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology.|
|↑7||Prabhamanju, M., S. Gokul Shankar, and K. Babu. “Herbal vs. Chemical Actives as Antidandruff Ingredients-Which Are
|↑8, ↑18||Cradle cap. National Institutes of Health.|
|↑9||Cradle cap. Department of Health & Human Services.|
|↑10||Take a Natural Approach to Dandruff and Dry Scalp. Bastyr
|↑11||Siegfried, Elaine, and Erica Glenn. “Use of olive oil for the treatment of seborrheic dermatitis in children.” Archives of pediatrics & adolescent medicine 166, no. 10 (2012): 967-967.|
|↑12||Vijayakumar, R., C. Muthukumar, T. Kumar, and R. Saravanamuthu. “Characterization of Malassezia Furfur and its control by using plant extracts.” Indian journal of Dermatology 51, no. 2 (2006): 145.|
|↑13||Satchell, Andrew C., Anne Saurajen, Craig Bell, and Ross StC Barnetson. “Treatment of dandruff with 5% tea tree oil shampoo.” Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology 47, no. 6 (2002): 852-855.|
|↑14||Selvakumar, P. “Studies on the antidandruff activity of the essential oil of Coleus amboinicus and Eucalyptus globulus.” Asian Pacific Journal of Tropical Disease 2 (2012): S715-S719.|
|↑15||Pooja, A. R. O. R. A., N. Arun, and K. Maninder. “Screening of plant essential oils for antifungal activity against Malassezia furfur.” International Journal of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences 5, no. 2 (2013): 37-39.|
|↑16||Eucalyptus. National Institutes of Health.|
|↑17||Tea Tree Uses. Australian Tea Tree Industry Association.|