You’ve probably heard of cradle cap but perhaps you aren’t prepared for it happening to your precious new baby.
Read on for information about what cradle cap actually is, what causes it, and how to treat it.
What is a cradle cap?
Cradle cap is a harmless, non-infectious skin condition in babies and infants. It’s classed as a form of dermatitis. It isn’t contagious and can’t be caught.
Rest assured, cradle cap isn’t painful or uncomfortable for your little one.
Cradle cap isn’t dry skin, or a sign of poor hygiene; neither is it a bacterial problem. It isn’t a sign you’re doing anything wrong, so don’t worry.
It’s simply a temporary skin condition that tends to disappear on its own after a baby is about three months of age. In some cases, though, it can persist for longer.
Research has shown babies with cradle cap often have a family member that has either asthma or atopic dermatitis.
What does a cradle cap look like?
Cradle cap appears on the skin as thick crusts or scale-like, flaky, crusty patches, which can be brown or yellow. In short, it’s not the cutest look for a baby.
Cradle cap primarily forms on the scalp but can also be found in the eyebrows and around the ears. If scaly patches are found on other body areas, it might be diagnosed as infantile seborrheic dermatitis.
It might not look nice, but cradle cap is a common skin condition that affects many babies. It won’t bother your baby, but you might not like the way it looks.
Your doctor can diagnose cradle cap but it’s generally pretty easy for you to spot what it is.
What causes cradle cap?
Although there isn’t a definitive reason for cradle cap, doctors and experts believe there are two main causes:
Overactive sebaceous glands
Many experts believe one of the causes of cradle cap is overactive oil production in the sebaceous (oil) glands and hair follicles. When your baby was growing in your uterus, he was surrounded by amniotic fluid and needed active sebaceous glands to waterproof his skin.
After birth, remnants of maternal hormone circulating in your baby’s body is thought to play a role in the oil glands remaining active.
Some experts believe another cause of cradle cap is a fungal condition caused by antibiotic use. Antibiotics are designed to wipe out bad bacteria but also do the same to good bacteria.
This can result in an overgrowth of bad bacteria, leading to fungal infections, such as thrush or, in this case, cradle cap.
How can I get rid of cradle cap?
Cradle cap has no definitive preventative or cure. It usually resolves itself by three months when the glands become inactive (only to ‘reboot’ later in life, at the teen stage).
Even if you treat the cradle cap, be prepared for it to come back again. Based on the active oil gland theory, the glands will continue to produce more oil until they become inactive.
If it’s a fungal condition, the yeast might not be killed off completely.
If cradle cap persists well beyond three months, or if it’s found in other places (including the face), then have your doctor check it’s not another skin condition or eczema.
It’s rare to need medical treatment for cradle cap but it’s always a good idea to check with your doctor or pharmacist if you’re concerned.
How to prevent cradle cap
Cradle cap is a common condition, and there isn’t much you can do to prevent your baby from getting it.
If you want to try to keep your baby’s scalp free from buildup, you should use a gentle brush through the hair and scalp after each bath. This could stop the accumulation of new flakes, but it won’t necessarily prevent the condition from coming back.
As mentioned above, cradle cap can return even after it’s been treated. Some parents find it easier to accept cradle cap as a part of life with a baby. It will clear up in time whether you attempt to treat it or not.
Does cradle cap smell bad?
Some parents report a slightly sour or oily smell coming from their baby’s head. The build-up of natural oils causes this smell. Using a natural sweet-smelling product like coconut oil can help mask the smell if it bothers you.
If your baby’s scalp has a particularly nasty smell, it could be infected. Ask your pharmacist or healthcare provider for advice if you think it there might be an infection.
Cradle cap baby
The cradle cap is probably bothering you more than it’s bothering your baby. The scaly patches are unlikely to worry your baby, although you might find them unsightly.
Try not to worry about it too much; it’s just cradle cap. It’s not uncommon and is probably more noticeable to you than to anybody else.
Look around, next time you’re out and about, and you’ll probably discover lots of other babies have it too.
Should I pick cradle cap off my baby’s scalp?
As tempting as it might be, it’s not a good idea to pick cradle cap off. You could end up giving your baby sore or infected skin.
Infections are caused by the same bacteria that cause impetigo (school sores) – bacteria such as group A Streptococcus and Staphylococcus aureus.
If it becomes infected, your baby’s skin will become redder than it already is, and little fluid-filled blisters can appear. The blisters could burst and weep on your baby’s head.
If you find this happens to your bub, you’ll need to take him to the doctor, who might prescribe antibiotics, if needed.
If you want to dislodge some of the flakes, you should use a soft-bristled baby brush to gently comb your baby’s scalp after bathtime.
Cradle cap toddler
Cradle cap usually clears up in infancy, although in some cases it can last longer. The cradle cap treatments mentioned for babies are also safe for toddlers so you can give them a try. If the cradle cap persists, ask a pharmacist for advice.
The good news is cradle cap won’t bother a toddler any more than it bothers a baby. Cradle cap isn’t itchy or irritating so it won’t be causing your toddler any problems. As the hair thickens up, you might notice the cradle cap less.
How to get rid of cradle cap
If the sight of it is bothering you, you might be wondering how to get rid of cradle cap. Below we’ve included all of the cradle cap treatments that parents swear by.
You might need to use trial and error to see which one works for your baby. Please start with the gentler treatments, as they might clear it up without you having to resort to chemicals or other nasties.
Remember, the cradle cap won’t bother your baby, but too many treatments might. Opt for gentler treatments and leave space between them, so you don’t irritate your baby’s sensitive skin.
Cradle cap treatment
Below are some suggestions on some gentle treatments for cradle cap. The gentler the treatment, the better it will be for your baby’s skin. Babies have sensitive skin, so it’s important to be mindful of what we apply to it.
What is the best way to get rid of cradle cap?
There is no definitive best treatment option for cradle cap, although most parents agree oil does the trick.
What works for one baby will not necessarily work for another, so you might need to try different things until you find the best solution for your baby.
Keep reading to find out what treatment options are available for this pesky condition.
Oil for cradle cap
All you need to do is apply the chosen treatment. You should make sure the scalp is well covered, not just the hair.
Let the oil sit for a while to allow it to soften the cradle cap. Give it a some time to be absorbed – overnight if you wish. Depending on what you’ve used, all you need to do afterwards is wash it off with warm water.
You can also gently brush off the cradle cap with a fine-toothed comb.
Don’t use peanut oil because it carries an allergy risk. The following oils are considered safe to use on your baby’s skin:
Coconut oil is a completely natural, non-toxic oil. It’s safe for baby and contains many wonderful properties not found in other oils, including anti-fungal and anti-bacterial action. If the cradle cap is fungal, this oil will certainly help address the root cause and not just treat the symptom.
Note that coconut oil is in a solid form. It can be confusing the first time you realize it’s not a liquid like other cooking oils, but it softens easily so you can rub it gently on a baby’s head.
Coconut oil also smells so much better than many other oils, and it has many other uses as well as treating your baby’s scalp.
Oil made from olives isn’t just healthy to eat, it’s probably the oil most commonly used by parents for cradle cap removal. It’s cheaper than coconut oil and more readily available; you’re likely to have some in your cupboard, to use for cooking or for dressing salads.
Jojoba oil is a great oil for the skin. It has anti-inflammatory and antibiotic properties, but if your baby has sensitive skin, you might want to avoid it as it could irritate a baby’s sensitive scalp.
Alternatively, you can mix it with another oil. Use only a small amount of jojoba oil.
Cradle cap brush
A cradle cap brush is soft, but firm enough to remove the flakes of cradle cap from your baby’s head. This will work best if the cradle cap has been softened beforehand.
Applying one of the oils above, before brushing, will provide the best results. Alternatively, you can use the brush after your baby’s hair has been washed, as this should have softened the cradle cap.
You don’t need to spend your hard-earned money on a specific cradle cap brush. Any soft baby brush will work. Avoid using a stiff brush, as this could irritate your baby’s scalp. Always watch for the soft spot on your baby’s head when brushing.
Some babies adore having their hair gently brushed, and this could become a daily pampering highlight for both of you.
Sodium bicarbonate (also known as bicarb soda or baking soda) is another gentle option some mothers find works well.
Make a paste of equal parts water and sodium bicarbonate, apply it to your baby’s scalp before a bath, and then rinse it off afterwards. Alternatively, use a solution as a wash: 1 tablespoon of bicarb soda to 1 cup of water.
Combine this treatment with using a soft brush, and you could find the cradle cap begins to clear.
Does breastmilk help cradle cap?
Google will tell you breastmilk can cure all ills, but can it help with cradle cap? Yes, you can use breastmilk to soften your baby’s cradle cap.
Apply some expressed breastmilk to the affected area and leave it to absorb. Once the cradle cap has softened, you can use a soft brush to shift the flakes of skin gently away.
The benefit of using breastmilk is it’s completely natural, and designed especially for your baby. And it’s free. Breastmilk really is the gift that keeps on giving.
Give it a try on your baby’s scalp and see if it helps to soften those crusty flakes of skin.
If you’re really keen, you might like to give making breast milk soap a try!
Cradle cap shampoo
You can buy specially formulated shampoos to treat cradle cap. However, they might contain chemicals that could irritate your baby’s skin, so they should be used as a last resort.
If you aren’t having any luck with the gentle remedies listed above, speak to your healthcare provider or local pharmacist about cradle cap shampoo. Ask about the different options for mild baby shampoo, as some are more gentle than others.
Is baby oil safe to use?
Traditional baby oil is mineral oil and you might want to skip using it altogether. It’s a very inexpensive product to make and doesn’t spoil easily, but it is difficult to absorb and it clogs pores, slowing the skin’s ability to eliminate toxins.
Baby oil is made from a petrochemical byproduct, and you don’t want that on your baby’s skin. In fact, it can make babies very sick, and if babies inhale this oil into their lungs it can stop them from working, and could have fatal consequences.
There have been cases where toddlers and young children have had access to this oil and ended up with serious respiratory conditions.
Likewise, don’t use petroleum jelly – another petrochemical byproduct. It is often recommended but it’s a product that’s not ideal for your baby’s skin. There are baby balms made from much nicer oils available on the market; you could try them instead.
What happens if you leave cradle cap alone?
You don’t need to treat it. If you leave the cradle cap alone, it will eventually clear up of its own accord. It’s perfectly fine to ignore the cradle cap and wait for it to disappear.
Many parents choose to treat it because they don’t like the appearance of the condition. However, if you want to leave it alone, then that’s absolutely fine.
If left alone, the cradle cap should disappear as your baby grows. In some babies, the cradle cap will clear up by itself a few months after birth; in others, it might take a little longer.
Does cradle cap make hair fall out?
It’s rare, but cradle cap can cause some hair loss. If you notice your baby’s hair coming out when you treat the cradle cap, you might choose to leave it alone until it clears up by itself.
The hair loss is temporary, and your baby’s hair will grow back. It’s important not to pick at the cradle cap as this can damage the hair follicles on your baby’s head.
How often should you wash baby’s hair with cradle cap?
You should aim to wash your baby’s hair every two or three days – whether he has cradle cap or not. If you think your baby has sensitive skin, you might prefer to use a mild baby shampoo that won’t irritate the scalp.
If you have chosen to use a medicated shampoo to treat the cradle cap, you must follow the manufacturer’s instructions about how to use the product correctly.
Can cradle cap spread to body?
Unfortunately, cradle cap can spread to other parts of your baby’s body. Typically, these include the eyebrows and behind the ears. It can spread further, in more serious conditions.
If you notice cradle cap has spread from your baby’s scalp, you might want to have the cradle cap medically reviewed. Your doctor could diagnose your baby with infantile seborrheic dermatitis and suggest treatment options.
Cradle cap in adults
We associate cradle cap with babies, but adults can suffer from it, too. In adults, we usually refer to cradle cap as dandruff. Dandruff can be caused by stress, hormones, and other skin conditions.
There are several anti-dandruff shampoos available for use on adult hair. You might need to experiment with different dandruff shampoo brands until you find one that works for you.
If you’re struggling with dandruff, try to keep a diary of potential triggers so you can identify what is causing the flare-ups. Stress could be to blame, and there are steps you can take to reduce your stress levels.