Concerned about cradle cap? This guide will show you what cradle cap is, what to look for, possible causes, and relief.
What is Cradle Cap?
Cradle cap is a skin condition called seborrheic dermatitis characterized by red, scaly or crusty, yellow patches on your baby’s head. It can also show up in other areas, including behind the ears, in the diaper area, and other folds/creases. Typically, seborrheic dermatitis will present as red, moist patches in the folds of the baby’s skin and as yellow, crusty patches in other areas. This condition is not cause for concern, nor is it contagious or painful to your baby. It may present later in life as dandruff, which most of us are a little more familiar with. Your baby may have cradle cap if you notice any of the following:
- Rash-like skin discoloration
- Oily or dry skin
- Scaly patches
- Thick yellowish crust
What Causes Cradle Cap?
The first thing to know is that cradle cap is not caused by poor hygiene or neglect, even if you may have heard this common misperception. While the exact cause is unknown, some doctors think it may be caused by an overproduction of sebum, a fungal infection, or a combination of the two. If a fungal infection is part of the problem, it is possible it was the result of the mother taking antibiotics before giving birth or the baby taking them after birth.
Cradle Cap: 6 Tips for Relief
Studies show that approximately 10% of babies will develop cradle cap. There is no foolproof way to prevent it, but there are cradle cap treatments that can be used to help ward it off as well as treat it. Getting rid of cradle cap doesn’t have to be complicated, but it can take some time. Thankfully, there are some practical things you can do to help keep your baby’s scalp healthy.
1. Using Baby Oil for Cradle Cap
Simply massage a small amount of oil into your baby’s scalp before washing. This will help soften the skin and keep it from flaking and scaling as easily. If you decide to use baby oil for cradle cap, be sure to choose something that is easy on your baby’s skin. Also, don’t forget to wash it off of the scalp afterwards. There is a long list of oils that can be used on your baby, but these four oils are easy to find and are especially nourishing for your baby’s skin:
- Avocado oil
- Olive oil
- Aloe vera
- Shea butter
2. Use Eczema Friendly Products
While cradle cap and eczema are not the same, nor do they often have the same underlying causes, they both require a gentle approach to skin care. Products that are approved and recommended for eczema are also likely to be helpful for cradle cap treatment.
3. Use a Cradle Cap Brush
Removing the scales caused by cradle cap is best done with a cradle cap brush. Brushes and combs made of silicone or rubber will help gently remove scales and dry skin. Gently rub baby oil into the scalp and then brush with a cradle cap brush or comb. Rinse the oil out of the hair, then wash the scalp gently with an eczema-safe or cradle cap shampoo. To get rid of cradle cap, brush your baby’s scalp in the same direction, moving down through the strands of hair. Make sure to take the brush/comb all the way through the hair to remove the flakes completely.
4. Use Cradle Cap Shampoo
To treat cradle cap, use a shampoo that is designed to gently nourish your baby’s scalp while removing scales and dry patches. If over-the-counter shampoos don’t do the trick, your doctor can also prescribe more effective shampoos that are also gentle enough for your baby’s scalp.
5. Topical Cream
Occasionally, if your baby’s cradle cap will not go away with ordinary measures, and if you are anxious for it to clear up, your doctor may prescribe or recommend one of the following:
- Hydrocortisone 1 percent cream: This cream is a steroid and is used to combat swelling and inflammation
- Ketoconasole 2 percent cream: This is an anti-fungal cream your doctor may recommend to help with cradle cap treatment.
Both of these creams are more intense treatments and should only be used under the care and direction of a doctor.
6. Give it Time
While this seems unconventional in a world where we have a cure and a treatment for everything, the truth is that cradle cap will usually go away on its own. If you find that nothing is working or that your options are limited due to financial restraints or availability, don’t fret. You may want to go ahead and make an appointment with your doctor if it starts to spread to other areas of the body.
Ways to Prevent Cradle Cap
While you may not be able to completely prevent cradle cap, there are some things you can do to help keep it at bay.
1. Use a Humidifier
If your baby’s skin becomes dry, it can overproduce sebum and cause cradle cap. Running a humidifier in your baby’s room overnight will help keep the skin moist. In addition to preventing your baby’s skin from drying out, humidifiers can also help with respiratory issues.
2. Do Not Overbathe Your Baby
Giving your baby too many baths, or extending bath time, can dry out skin and cause cradle cap. Your baby only needs one bath per day, and make sure to keep bath time short to reduce these issues.
3. Use a Gentle Shampoo Sparingly
Your baby’s hair needs to be cleansed even less often. Simply wash your baby’s hair two to three per week, using a shampoo that is gentle on your baby’s skin. Overwashing the scalp can dry out the skin, creating imbalances in the oils that cause cradle cap.
4. Avoid Certain Ingredients
In addition to positive action you can take to help prevent cradle cap, there are also some things to avoid.
- Sulfates. Sulfates are often the active ingredient in cleansing products for skin and hair. They do a good job of lifting dirt, but are not gentle enough for your baby’s skin. Instead, look for baby cleansing products that are sulfate-free.
- Parabens. Parabens can disrupt hormones after they are absorbed into the body. This can cause issues with skin imbalances and potentially cause cradle cap. It is generally agreed that it is best to avoid parabens in baby products since the effects are still largely unknown.
- Phenoxyethanol. Phenoxyethanol is used as a preservative, stabilizer, and can even be used to fight bacteria. However, it can irritate your baby’s skin and even cause eczema.
- Ethanol and Ethyl Alcohol. These alcohols will dry out your baby’s skin and cause irritation. This is the perfect storm for cradle cap, as the dryness will cause the skin to produce more sebum, further irritating skin that is already inflamed.
Not All Home Remedies Are Created Equal
Even though many natural remedies are safe, not all are recommended for your baby. It’s important that the treatments you use are not harmful to your baby’s skin.
1. Do Not Directly Apply Essential Oils
While essential oils can be helpful for skin issues, and Tea Tree Oil especially is an ingredient in many adult dandruff shampoos, applying essential oils directly to your baby’s skin can be irritating and even burn. Essential oils are very concentrated and should only be applied with a carrier oil or as an ingredient in a product that has been determined safe for babies.
2. Avoid Hydrogen Peroxide
Grandmothers are especially fond of hydrogen peroxide as a go-to treatment for many ailments. Hydrogen peroxide is too harsh for your baby’s skin, however, and can cause irritation that will only make cradle cap worse.
The Bottom Line
Cradle cap, or seborrheic dermatitis, is a common condition in babies under the age of one. It is most common at about three to four months of age and is not contagious, dangerous, or painful to your baby. Cradle cap is not caused by neglect or bad hygiene but by excess sebum or a fungal infection brought on by antibiotic use by either the mother or the baby, and it is easily treatable. There are a variety of remedies, and even without treatments, cradle cap will usually resolve itself.
Parenting comes with a whole host of worries, but cradle cap doesn’t have to be one of them. As far as skin conditions go, it is common, harmless, and easy to treat.
All health-related content on this website is for informational purposes only and does not create a doctor-patient relationship. Always seek the advice of your own pediatrician in connection with any questions regarding your baby’s health.
These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. Products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.