Cradle cap, medically known as infantile seborrheic dermatitis, is a common skin problem among babies. It is characterized by rough, scaly patches on the scalp. This condition can be seen among newborns as well as children up to three years old.
Symptoms of cradle cap include greasy patches of skin, yellow or white scales, thick crusty flakes, red and irritated skin as well as hair loss. Cradle cap is not associated with any illness and does not indicate that a baby is not being well cared for.
The exact cause of cradle cap isn’t known, although some researchers believe it can be due to hormones passed from the mother to the baby, antibiotics taken by the mother during pregnancy, overstimulation of the baby’s oil glands, extreme weather, irregular skin cleaning, food allergies and growth of yeast in the digestive tract.
Despite the name, cradle cap can also appear on the eyebrows, eyelids, ears, crease of the nose, back of the neck, diaper area or armpits. If it is spreading from the scalp to other parts of a baby’s body, it is good idea to consult a doctor.
Though cradle cap is unsightly, it is generally considered harmless and temporary, unless caused by infection or some other underlying cause. It usually clears up on its own within a few weeks or months, but many parents have a hard time just waiting for it to self-heal.
There are several home remedies that can effectively treat cradle cap on small babies, without harming their soft and tender skin.
Here are some effective home remedies to treat cradle cap.
1. Baby Shampoo
Washing your baby’s head every day with mild baby shampoo and warm water can help get rid of cradle cap. It helps loosen the flakes of cradle cap without irritating the baby’s soft skin.
- Soak your baby’s scalp in warm water.
- Gently rub a small amount of baby shampoo on the head.
- Wait for two minutes and then scrub the scalp with a soft-bristled baby brush.
- Rinse the area well with warm water and gently towel dry.
- Follow this remedy once daily for the first week and then twice weekly until the cradle cap is treated completely.
2. Olive Oil
The American Academy of Family Physicians recommends using olive oil to treat cradle cap. The moisturizing as well as healing properties of olive oil can help soften and loosen the flaky scales. Plus, it is good for your baby’s skin.
- Slightly warm a small amount of olive oil.
- Gently massage the oil into your baby’s scalp at bedtime.
- Leave it on overnight.
- The next morning, use a soft baby brush or cloth to gently remove any loose particles.
- Wash your baby’s hair with baby shampoo and warm water.
- Repeat daily or every other day, depending upon the severity of the condition.
3. Coconut Oil
Coconut oil works well as a natural treatment for cradle cap. It acts as a natural moisturizer and will loosen the cradle cap flakes while nourishing the scalp. Plus, its antifungal and antibacterial properties with help fight infections.
- Put a small amount of organic, solid coconut oil in the palm of your hand.
- Rub the oil in your palm until it becomes liquid form.
- Gently massage this liquid oil into the scalp or affected areas.
- Leave it on for 20 minutes and then rinse it off with warm water.
- Use a soft brush to gently remove the loose flakes.
- Do this once daily until you are satisfied with the result.
4. Petroleum Jelly
Petroleum jelly is also very helpful in treating cradle cap. Its moisturizing property can help lift the crusts and loosen the oily scales. Many find this to be the simplest and most convenient remedy for cradle cap.
- Before your baby’s bath time, massage his head with a liberal amount of petroleum jelly.
- After one hour, wet the hair with warm water.
- Use a soft brush to gently scrub your baby’s head.
- Rinse the hair and scalp thoroughly with warm water.
- Gently pat the head dry with a soft towel.
- Repeat several times a week until you get rid of cradle cap.
5. Shea Butter
Shea butter is another popular natural cure for cradle cap due to it natural moisturizing property. Also, it is easily absorbed into the skin without leaving a greasy residue.
- Rub some shea butter onto the affected area.
- Leave it on for 20 minutes.
- Use a soft-toothed comb to remove the loosened flakes.
- Wash the baby’s head with shampoo and warm water and gently pat it dry.
- Follow this remedy once daily until the cradle cap disappears.
6. Almond Oil
Almond oil is also very safe for treating cradle cap. Due to its light texture, almond oil penetrates into the skin quickly. When massaged directly into the scalp, it can help soften the scales and make it easier to rinse them out after shampooing.
- Combine almond oil and tea tree oil in a ratio of 10:1 and stir it well.
- Apply it on your baby’s head.
- Leave it on for 15 minutes.
- Remove the oily flakes gently with a soft baby brush.
- Use a baby shampoo to wash your baby’s hair.
- Repeat daily or every other day to get rid of cradle cap.
7. Mineral Oil
Mineral oil is a common ingredient found in baby lotions, creams and other baby products due to its moisturizing and healing properties. It can also be used to treat cradle cap.
- Apply some mineral oil on your baby’s head.
- Leave it on for two to three hours.
- Rub some baby shampoo on your baby’s head.
- Gently rub the scalp with a clean, wet washcloth in a circular motion.
- Thoroughly wash your baby’s head with warm water to remove all the traces of oil.
- Follow this remedy three or four times a week for two weeks.
8. Breast Milk
Breast milk is not only the best way to feed your newborn or infant, but is also good for combating cradle cap due to its medicinal properties.
- Squirt some breast milk into a bowl.
- Gently rub the breast milk into your baby’s scalp at bedtime.
- Leave it on overnight so that the thick crusty flakes become soft.
- The next morning, brush your baby’s head with a soft brush to remove the flakes.
- Wash your baby’s head and hair with a mild shampoo and warm water.
- Do this daily until the cradle cap clears up.
9. Baking Soda
Baking soda is another effective home remedy to relieve the symptoms of cradle cap. Along with its oil-absorbing quality, baking soda is alkaline in nature that helps balance the pH level of the scalp.
- Mix one part baking soda with one part water to make a paste.
- Apply this paste directly onto the scalp.
- Let it sit for not more than one minute.
- Give your baby a warm bath and wash the treated area well.
- Repeat this treatment once daily until the cradle cap disappears.
- Do not use excessive pressure while using a comb or brush to remove flakes and scales.
- Never use tweezers or any other sharp tool to remove the scales.
- Consult your doctor before using medicated or dandruff shampoos.
- Humidify your home so that your baby’s skin does not become too dry or irritated.
- Keep a close eye on your baby’s diet to rule out the possibility of a food allergy.
- After the cradle cap is treated, wash your baby’s hair every few days with a mild shampoo. Brush your baby’s hair with a clean, soft brush while it is still wet.
- Always moisturize your baby’s scalp after bathing to prevent it from becoming dry and scaly.
You must consult a doctor if the cradle cap is severe, show signs of infection or spreads beyond your baby’s scalp.
Expert Answers (Q&A)
Answered by Dr. Jen Trachtenberg, MD (Pediatrician)
Can cradle cap resolve without any treatment?
Most cases of cradle cap do resolve on their own. However, treatment can help it go away faster by not building up thicker scales and plaques that may get infected with fungus. Daily cleansing, washing and brushing can help resolve it faster.
How long does it take for cradle cap to go away?
It depends on the severity of the infection. It can be weeks to months but in more severe cases it can take up to a year to clear.
Does cradle cap increase the risk of hair fall in children?
Mostly hair is not affected but again more severe cases with thick plaques can cause temporary hair loss in children.
Is it normal for cradle cap to smell bad?
Most often cradle cap does not have a strong odor however, due to the oil build up and the flakes, scales that get trapped, can have an oily odor. But if you smell a very strong odor even with daily shampooing and care, have the baby seen by a pediatrician as a fungal infection may have developed.
Is it safe to scrape off cradle cap?
Gentle daily cleaning and massage with a moisturizer like oil can be very effective in removing the scales and flakes. Be certain not to pick at it with your fingers or a hard brush or comb as that can cause trauma, irritation, bleeding and even increase the risk of infection.
Please provide some additional tips to help our readers deal with cradle cap in babies.
Rest assured that it is a very common and not contagious infection. Shampoo baby’s hair daily with a gentle cleanser and use a soft baby brush to remove scales and flakes to decrease build up.
Massage a bit of oil (coconut, almond, mineral) to baby scalp before shampooing. Avoid harsh non diluted apple vinegar or even certain essential oils on the baby’s scalp as it’s very sensitive and may cause skin irritation or burning. For severe cases with thick plaques or order, consult with a pediatrician as prescription medicines may be needed.
About Jen Trachtenberg, MD: Dr. Trachtenberg is a board certified pediatrician, nationally renowned parenting expert, author, spokesperson for the American Academy of Pediatrics and an Assistant Clinical Professor of Pediatrics at The Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. She has a successful private practice in New York City for over 22 years.
Dr. Jen’s mission is to maximize the potential that is within every child. She is the creator of Pediatrician in Your Pocket: the only science-based, mom-tested, no-judgement, video guide for new parents.