Don’t ask me what causes it. Shampoo build-up? Fungus? Not brushing enough? I’ve heard many theories. These are some of the most popular, but most doctors agree that cradle cap has hundreds of potential causes.
Many doctors think that cradle cap is caused by the development of the oil glands in your baby’s skin. As these glands begin to adjust to life outside the womb, they produce more oil than they actually need to.
Your baby’s skin is confused because mom’s hormones are still affecting its development even though it has long since exited the womb.
As your baby’s skin reacts to an inflammatory response – caused by a common skin organism, Malassezia yeast – it responds by overproducing oil and beginning to flake off.
Although this disease isn’t the same thing as adult dandruff, they are caused by the same yeast and are super common, affecting up to half of the world’s population.
Now, cradle cap can also appear as a fungal infection. This is usually in response to antibiotics given to the mother just before the baby is born, as well as those given to babies in hospitals when they are first born. It can also be a bad reaction to a baby shampoo or lotion, or as an allergy to formula or other types of foods. However, these causes of cradle cap are much less common.
Never heard of cradle cap? You’re in luck. A baby should continue to be revered for its soft, smooth skin – after all, haven’t you heard of the phrase “baby-soft”?
Cradle cap causes rough patches on your baby’s head – where he or she would wear a cap – and is comparable to the adult version of dandruff. The formal, clinical term for this condition is infantile seborrheic dermatitis. It usually appears in the first few weeks of life and can last into the first few months.
This diseases is harmless, but certainly unattractive. It may cause your baby’s scalp to look greasy, or to develop white or yellow scaly patches. Even though it looks itchy, your baby usually can’t feel it. However, sometimes cradle cap can cause your baby to lose some hair.
A common misconception about cradle cap is that it can only appear on the scalp. However, this disease can appear behind the ears, in the armpits, on the face, or even in the diaper area – all for the same reasons and with the same symptoms I already mentioned. This can be scary for a new mama!
Don’t be scared, though. Cradle cap, like I mentioned, is usually painful and is noninfectious. It is often confused with infantile eczema, but they can be differentiated because cradle cap doesn’t cause itching like eczema does. Like eczema, cradle cap is not contagious and is not caused by anything you did wrong. That was a relief.
Whatever it comes from, Cradle Cap is a condition of the scalp that you wanna take care of right away.
Let’s face it, those crusty yellow scales beneath your child’s hair look pretty icky. And if you don’t take care of the problem as soon as you notice it, it’ll build up and get worse over time.
For whatever reason, all of my children have developed Cradle Cap at some point in their infant-toddler years. When I noticed it on our firstborn, we hightailed it to the doctor.
Luckily, the doctor assured me that there was no cause for alarm, and that cradle cap is super common in infants. That was a relief! But what he said next I wasn’t crazy about. The pediatrician recommended that I treat her scalp with a mixture of hydrocortisone (a steroid cream) and an antifungal cream.
Um. Who wants to put steroids and synthetic antifungals on their baby’s head?? Definitely not this mama.
After doing a little research, I was really excited to find an easy and totally natural treatment that’s safe and works amazingly well. After four babies with cradle cap issues, this is my #1 go-to recipe.
What You’ll Need
Essential Oils: Make sure that what you are using are 100% pure, therapeutic grade. Not all oils are pure (even if the bottle says it is), and not all are safe to be used topically. This is especially important when it comes to your kids.
There is a brand that I whole-heartedly recommend, however due to new FDA requirements I’m no longer allowed to share that information here on my blog.
- Lemon Essential Oil– has antiseptic, antifungal, and astringent properties; invigorating, clean scent.
- Melaleuca (Tea Tree) Essential Oil– has antibacterial, antifungal, and strong antiseptic properties; promotes cleansing and purity.
- Geranium Essential Oil– has antibacterial, antiseptic, astringent, and refreshing properties.
You can use any combination of these three oils. I typically use Melaleuca and Lemon oil for this application because I generally have those oils on hand all the time (they have many uses!).
Carrier Oils: You’ll also want a “carrier” oil to dilute the essential oils and help them spread further. Almond oil is a good choice because it washes out easier than, say, olive oil. Fractionated coconut oil is my second favorite choice.
Mix 2 Tbsp almond oil with 1 drop Melaleuca and 1 drop of either Lemon or Geranium essential oils. If you have all three oils on hand, use one drop of each.
Massage the oil into your child’s scalp, concentrating on the worst areas of cradle cap. Allow the oil to soak in for a couple of minutes to help loosen the scales.
Use a fine-toothed comb to gently scrape the crust from the scalp. Some people recommend a soft baby brush, but I’ve had the best results with a hard comb. Be careful not to dig into your child’s scalp. It should not cause pain. Just work slowly and gently, working all of the yuckiness loose.
Wash your child’s hair to remove the oil and flakes. I usually shampoo and rinse twice to remove as much oil as possible.
Typically it only takes 1-2 treatments to end the cradle cap curse in my children. Keep a check on their scalp and treat as necessary; some children experience worse cases than others.
Other Natural Treatments for Cradle Cap
I know that every baby is different, and as a result, won’t respond as well as my child did to the essential oils treatment. Therefore, I also compiled a few other treatments in case you are stuck and don’t know where else to turn in treating your child’s ailment.
The most important thing to remember is that keeping your baby’s scalp clean is vital. This can help wash away some of the extra oils. Use a baby shampoo – not a shampoo formulated for dandruff, because these usually aren’t safe for babies – and rub it gently into the affected areas.
Again, cradle cap isn’t usually painful, so this shouldn’t sting or irritate your baby in any way. You should aim to wash your baby’s hair more often than usual if he or she has a case of cradle cap, but don’t massage the shampoo too vigorously, as this can cause more irritation. Try not to wash more often than once every two or three days.
It’s also important that you choose your baby’s shampoo wisely. As an advocate of natural health and home remedies, I always believe in avoiding shampoos loaded with questionable or toxic ingredients.
There are hundreds of natural shampoos out there that are specially formulated for infants. You can look up suggestions online, or ask your pharmacist, pediatrician, or even grocer for a recommendation.
You should also make sure to gently brush your baby’s hair with a soft baby brush. This will help loosen and remove the extra scales. Brush easily, and use a detangling spray if your baby’s hair is long and you feel the need to pull.
Some people also recommend using a fine-toothed comb instead of a traditional baby brush. This can help lock onto and extract the flakes from your baby’s head. Just make sure you don’t use too much pressure, as this can tug your baby’s hair and cause too much pain.
Baking soda is a common home remedy for cradle cap. This helps to sanitize and soothe the skin. All you need to do is mix equal parts of baking soda and water to form a thick paste. Apply this paste to the scalp and leave it on for a minute or two. You can even apply it right before a bath, or while you baby is already in the tub, to make your life a little easier.
Sometimes applying a light lubricant can also help, although this will obviously make your baby’s hair appear greasier in the short term. Some good options include olive oil, coconut oil, baby oil, shea butter, and Vaseline.
This can help keep the area moist and prevent scales from flaking off. The best time to moisturize is after a shampooing. Doing this when the scalp is still moist and warm will help the moisture get locked into the skin.
Changing a baby’s diet can help in some cases. If your baby is not breast fed, there is a small chance that the cradle cap is being caused by an allergy to formula.
Usually, this is not the case. However, if the cradle cap is presenting with other symptoms, like diarrhea, irritability, and red patches on the face, you should consider switching to a formula that will be healthier and more suitable for your child.
I have also read about – but never tried – using apple cider vinegar. Supposedly, this helps fight the formation of dead skin and the acidity helps to remove the skin buildup. All you need to do is mix apple cider vinegar with double the amount of water.
Massage it onto your baby’s scalp, and let it sit there for ten minutes. Then, rinse it off in the bath tub. If you have calendula or calendula cream handy, this, too, can be highly effective at removing the symptoms of cradle cap. As an herbal plant, calendula helps by acting as an anti-inflammatory agent.
Using a humidifier can also help in many cases. Cradle cap can be caused or worsened by dry air, so running a humidifier can help produce more moisture in the air to decrease the dryness of the baby’s skin. This is especially true if you have air conditioning or forced air heating, which can lower your home’s humidity.
I looked up whether I had made the right choice in opting against the hydrocortisone cream and steroid treatments for my baby.
Luckily, very few doctors do recommend that you put steroid cream on your baby’s head. This is because you really only need it if the child’s scalp is already inflamed.
As long as you and your baby haven’t been digging at the area, and as long as it isn’t swollen or itchy, you should be fine without it.
In the future, cradle cap can easily be prevented by regular washing with baby shampoo and brushing with a soft-bristled brush. Lotion can also help as a preventative measure if your baby is prone to cradle cap.
Do you have a favorite natural treatment for cradle cap?
A city girl learning to homestead on an acre of land in the country. Wife and homeschooling mother of four. Enjoying life, and everything that has to do with self sufficient living.
48 thoughts on “Get Rid of Cradle Cap Naturally”
Thanks for posting this! I just tried it on my boys (20 mos and 4.5 yrs) a few days ago. Mine was accidentally double strength, because how do you get only one drop?! Haha! But the yellow build-up combed out painlessly and left my 20 mo with a perfect looking scalp. My preschooler will need a second round, but I was amazed how much just the first try helped him, too! Thanks again for sharing!
I live in Florida and carry tea tree oil with me EVERYWHERE. mosquito bites, red ants, skin pain and itches, won’t leave home without it. New baby has cradle cap-never thought about using it for that! Can’t wait to try it tomorrow!
Tea tree oil is my number one favorite essential oil to use. I use it almost on a daily basis. 🙂
Thank you thank you thank you.
Finally something that worked! I have all three oils so did one drop of each. First night it cleared up most and now 2 nights later I did it again and its all gone! Wish I tried this earlier.
Thank you again
My LO is having white flakes on his hair n itchy scalp..doc said it’s craddle cap..I tired geranium n lemon oils..but it’s not working..any suggestions please..he is not sleeping because of itchy scalp..struggling with sleepless nights..
Try Melaleuca, definitely.
Thank you so much for ur quick response..greatly appreciate it..in a day how times I can use these essential oils?
I would probably apply 2x daily.
Hey just wanted to let you know that the FDA has no legal authority to infringe upon you free speech rights to post what you want. Your 1st amendment t rights states Congress shall make no law. Remember those rules are only for the Feds. These regulations are created by an agency & unelected officials. Cheers!
You are right. Unfortunately, they are threatening independent consultants like me as well as essential oil manufacturers for being “non compliant”.
do you have to wash it out? What if I just bathed my 6 week old and want to add some diluted oils to his cradle cap and then leave it on? His isn’t really bad just soft white patches
I wash it out ’cause it leaves their hair so greasy.
They don’t want you to teach what most nurses and doctors will agree to and have studied as a cure!
No different from telling someone that lemon oil and tea tree oil are good safest for repelling mosquitoes when your child is outdoor playing! The big PHARMAcompanies own our congress! That’s why we need to replace them for sitting their decades allowing a lawless administration the last 8 years to be Americans worst enemy!
We must replace, drain the corrupt in congress to replace with those who will put Americans first and not allow pharma and Americas enemies to pay them to look the other way! Keep going and posting, pure Essential oils
Need to out there!
I’ve been doing this and it works. But when I gently brush out the cradle cap, my sons hair comes out with it too. Now he looks like he has bald spots on his head. How can I prevent this from happening and help his hair grow back?
Would this be safe for a 5 month old?
It worked, thank you! DD (18 mo old) has had cradle cap since day 1. I tried apple cider vinegar – repeatedly – and it never worked. I was just going to wait it out but then I found this and it worked! I used 1.5 T coconut oil, 1 drop melaleuca and 1 drop geranium. Thank you!
Glad you gave this a try! 🙂
Thank you for this! We use YL oils as well and I just found a patch on my toddler. We’ve never dealt with cradle cap before. I did this tonight and it looks so much better after one application. I put it in his hair before dinner and then the kids took a bath and I combed his hair.
Wonderful! Glad it worked for ya. 🙂
Just did this on my 3-yr old’s cradle cap. Worked like a charm! (I used Young Living oils)
I’m so thrilled to have come across your site and this information. My daughter is 14 months and has been plagued with cradle cap since birth. Nothing else worked but I used tea tree oil mixed with organic canola tonight and it’s 95% gone! One more application should do the job. I’m so grateful to you. Thank you.
Wonderful!! So glad it helped. 🙂
Thank you SO much for this post. My one year old has had cradle cap her whole life. We have tried coconut oil, olive oil, selsun blue, creams meant to treat cradle cap, shampoos meant to treat cradle cap, cradle cap brushes, etc. and NOTHING worked. The dry flakes always stuck around. This treatment worked within 10 minutes and her cradle cap is almost completely gone! I can’t believe it. I’ve always preferred natural products but was skeptical about essential oils until now. Call me a believer! Thanks again!
Awesome, Marissa!! So glad you gave it a shot. 🙂
My 4 year old still gets cradle cap once in awhile. He has very thick hair and we keep it buzzed pretty short. I’ve noticed that if we let his hair grow out much, no matter how much we scrub and shampoo it, it always comes back. I use oils and a fine-toothed comb on him every couple of months to take care of it. It’s not really bad, but I suspect it has something to do with the natural bacteria and enzymes that his body seems to be lacking. He’s got other minor signs of this too, so I have been working on probiotics and such to replentish his system. It seems everything comes back to probiotics, enzymes, fungus growth, and sugar consumption.
Cradle cap is usually no more than a buildup of oils that protect baby’s little scalp when they are in the womb and when they are first born. And as it builds up, dead skin cells get stuck in there, making for a not-so-fresh-smelling head, lol. But so many ppl think it is dry skin, so they don’t wash it or try to gently scrub it out. Anything that will loosen it a bit so that it can be combed out will help– baby bath, olive oil, etc. My pediatrician recommended a barber’s comb, which I have used successfully on my own children and many of my daycare babies as well. And I love the idea of the coconut oil. I bet that would smell and feel wonderful. 🙂
I wonder what causes cradle cap in older children, though. I actually just did this treatment on my 3 year old yesterday… so that makes me think it’s something other than newborn oils. Or maybe there are multiple causes. Thanks for sharing your experience!!
My 17 year old has it. It’s terrible. She never had it as an infant or toddler but around age 10 it came fast and furious. We get rid of it and it constantly comes back. I’ve just recently started using doTerra, after a 9 month search of the best brand, which I’m ubber excited about and have just tried this concoction on my daughter. I’m praying it works as we are out if options.
Poor thing. I’m sure the oils will help tremendously.
I am so glad mother of 12 brought up problem with petroleum products. I was warned in La Leche League in the 70’s and 80’s that mineral oil (in baby oil) leaches Out vitamins. That was enough to steer me away. We used olive oil to good effect.
Coconut Oil works really well too, and is so good for moisturizing the scalp. A little bit goes a long way, so don’t put on too much. Rub it into the scalp to saturate and then use a damp cloth to wipe away. (I should mention that all of my babies have just a little bit of thin hair) One problem: I have trouble keeping the cats away from my babies afterward… they love to lick their heads!
I used olive oil. My older children have this a little bit in the winter. I have heard it is a reaction to shampoo also. My 4 year old calls is cradle crap……cute 🙂
My daughter gets it too. Her dr also recommended Head and Shoulders. No way was I going to use that on her. I used Jojoba oil, massaged it in, then shampooed it out.
My daughter had it really bad when she was younger, so I used baby oil and a soft, soft, baby toothbrush. Sophie loved it, I guess it felt like a little massage! haha. And it worked like a charm!
We used pine tar soap on my stepdaughter…worked great!
Tea Tree Oil is excellent stuff. We found it (pure) in the pharmacy area at WalMart. For cradle cap I prefer Arbonne Baby Oil (their products are unique in respect to quality, no petroleum bt’products). We use their Unwind spray for restfullness. The children call it sleep spray because when they were little I would spritz it on their pillows before napping or night night. They still ask for it. It was very effective. BTW, PLEASE read about mineral oil, parrafin, and petroleum products (and baby sunscreens)They are toxic to all ages… and can really mess up hormonal balance in both genders.
I second Olive Oil and coconut oil works well also for the cradle cap.
I have found a good resource for purchasing Essential oils is http://www.vitacost.com. I use them to purchase oils, elderberry syrup, medicinal teas, organic foods, not organic foods, Dr. Bronner’s products, vitamins, etc. They have TONS of products that I LOVE and can find it cheaper here than almost anywhere else AND shipping is cheap!
Here is a good site for explaining Lavender:
BTW-you can drink a tea made from lavender flowers but you do NOT drink the essential oils. It is good for diluting with water and using as a air spray or for spraying on your pillow/sheets. Or use the oil directly and apply to your temples. For babies mix in with some almond oil and use as a baby massage oil or add a bit to bath water. I had a bad colic baby and this helped a lot to get her to calm down and sleep better. Aanother colic remedy I HIGHLY recommend is Gripe Water which can be found at vitacost as well. Oh yeah if you make your own laundry soap add lavender oil to give it a light scent or just use vinegar and a few drops of lavender oil for your fabric softner.
Okay off that rabbit trail, Lavender relaxes! I also LOVE tea tree oil for so many types of ailments, so kudos to you Kendra!
Tea tree oil is amazing. Like you said it has a strong odor but very good for the skin!
i used olive oil and it worked fine on one child. this time it didn’t work as well so i used my healing balm. directions are on my blog via the search box. my dr. had said head and shoulders, but that sounded too harsh.
What do you do with the lavender oil for headaches? Do you just smell it or drink it or what?
I found olive oil to be very useful. It takes a little bit of elbow grease to massage it all in and scrub the yuckies off with a brush, but after one washing, it really does the trick! My older son developed a weird buildup on his scalp when he was around a year old and for about two years I just kind of let it go. I never could get it off with soap, so eventually I FINALLY tried the olive oil and it came off right away!
Kendra, where is your recommended source for purchasing this ? Do you have an online source? I was also wanting to get some lavendar oil for headaches and such. Do you know a good place for that?
This is crazy that you just posted about this. Georgia had the same thing, and last week at her Dr. appt, he prescribed her an anti-fungal cream. I, not wanting to put that on her skin, decided to give tea tree oil a try instead and it has worked wonderfully! How funny 🙂
Huh. Funny! I’ve wondered all this time if my pediatrician was crazy for recommending that cream. At least I know it’s pretty standard now. I’m so glad you tried a natural treatment first though! Good job mom 🙂
What a cutie!
Washing their head with Baking soda did the job every time. After a couple of washes, the cradle cap was gone for good.
Umm do not wash your babies heads wih baking soda it is caustic to skin and if it gets in theirs eyes could be a disaster.