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. If you’d like to know which essential oil brand I use and recommend, please feel free to email me at: [email protected] for more info.
- 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?
updated by Rebekah White 09/25/2018