Closeup of baby's scalp showing the yellow, rough, patchy areas of skin known as cradle cap

Tackling Cradle Cap—Causes & Treatments

As a first time mom, you naturally worry about any new bump or scratch. So when I noticed my baby’s scalp was covered in rough, scaly patches, I instantly started to panic thinking it was a sign of something more serious. Fortunately, I learned it was a common (and harmless) skin condition called cradle cap, instantly easing my anxiety. Here’s an overview of the condition and how it can be easily treated at home with a few simple ingredients.

What Is Cradle Cap?

We’ve all heard of dandruff as adults, but did you know babies can experience it as well? Seborrheic dermatitis in babies, or more commonly called cradle cap, is a skin condition that results in thick, rough, and scaly patches on the scalp. Usually these are yellow or whitish in color and can either be dry and flaky or thick and greasy.

According to the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) cradle cap is most prevalent in newborns up to 3 months old, occurring in 10% of boys and 9.5% in girls.

While common, doctors still can’t pinpoint the exact cause. Some believe it to be hormonal causing your baby’s oil glands to produces excess oil, leading to a buildup of dead skin cells.

Regardless, it’s important to emphasize that it’s a harmless condition that doesn’t require medical attention. In fact, it can go away on it’s own by your baby’s first birthday.

Does Cradle Cap Make Baby’s Hair Fall Out?

Cradle cap is a relatively harmless skin condition that isn’t even itchy or bothersome to your baby.

While performing one of the treatments below to loosen and remove the scales, some hair may also come out. But don’t worry, it won’t be huge clumps, just a few hairs here and there.

Can Cradle Cap Spread To The Body?

Yes, in fact it can appear in areas of the body with a high number of oil glands such as the face, behind the ears, diaper area, and armpits.

For my daughter, it started on her scalp, and traveled down to her eyebrows and nose.

You shouldn’t worry, as cradle cap IS NOT contagious, nor is it due to poor hygiene.

Treatments below should work to clear up cradle cap on the scalp and any other areas it might have sprouted on effectively.

Best Ways To Get Rid Of Your Baby’s Cradle Cap

Wash your baby’s hair with a mild shampoo to avoid overbuilding of oils

Washing your baby’s scalp more often is an effective cradle cap treatment method. The shampoo prevents excess oil from sticking to the scalp, creating a buildup of dead skin cells. Keep an eye out if your baby’s scalp becomes excessively dry, red, or irritated. These are signs of over washing in which case you should reduce washes to a few times a week rather than daily.

Baby sits in bath while mom runs a comb gently through hair to treat cradle cap.

Apply coconut oil and gently loosen scales with a baby comb

This was the most effective treatment for me and my baby. Apply a small amount of coconut oil on your baby’s scalp and massage in gently. Let it sit for about 10-15 min. Take a baby comb or brush and gently move the bristles through your baby’s scalp in one fluid motion—from front to back. This loosens the scales and you should see a significant number of them being lifted up and out.

Rinse your baby’s hair with a mild shampoo. You should do this 2-3 times a week until your baby’s scalp shows improvement. With this method, my baby’s cradle cap was nearly gone within 1-2 weeks!

If you notice your baby’s scalp becoming red and inflamed, it’s a sign that you’re combing too hard and too often. Stop treatment until your baby’s skin is healed.

Keep your baby’s head lubricated

If you notice your baby’s scalp is dry and flaky rather than thick and oily, it may just need some hydration. Baby oil, petroleum jelly, coconut oil, and olive oil are all good options. Test a small amount on your baby’s skin first to see if any allergic reactions occur.

Avoid These Tactics When Dealing With Cradle Cap

  • DO NOT pick or rub off the scales. It may be tempting to pick and lift the scales off, but it’s not recommended. It can severely irritate your baby’s skin and scalp and leave it vulnerable to infection.
  • Don’t use adult shampoos on your baby. While dandruff shampoo is fine to use on adults, it’s not fit for a baby and may have a safety risk. If your pediatrician has prescribed an anti-fungal shampoo, follow use instructions carefully.
  • Don’t use anti-fungal creams. Over-the-counter anti-fungal creams and even hydrocortisone are not recommended unless specific permission by your pediatrician is given. Some of the ingredients in these creams can be absorbed into your baby’s skin and pose a toxic risk.

Cradle cap often looks worse than what it really is. It doesn’t require medical attention and often goes away on its own between age 1-4. Let us know if any of the above methods worked for you and your baby in the comments below!

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