How to Treat Cradle Cap

Filed under: Newborns, Babies, Health & Safety: Babies, Health & Safety: Toddlers & Preschoolers

cradle cap

Use a toothbrush to scrub cradle cap. Credit: Getty Images

Skin cells are constantly being made, and we usually don't notice our old, dry skin cells falling off as the new cells replace them. However, sometimes in healthy infants, new cells grow faster on their scalps than the old cells can fall off, causing a buildup of flaky, crusty skin.

This condition is called cradle cap. Cradle cap is common and is not part of any serious illness, nor is it contagious. It also does not mean the baby is not being taken care of properly. Fortunately, this condition does not last longer than the infant's first year. Additionally, it is easily treated.

Cradle cap generally begins within the first three months of an infant's life. A possible cause has to do with the hormones from the mother that pass through the placenta right before birth. These hormones stimulate the baby's sebaceous glands in his or her skin, causing the glands to produce a greasy substance which makes the old skin cells stick to the scalp as the substance dries.

The symptoms of cradle cap are patchy scales and redness on the scalp. These scales can look cracked and greasy. Sometimes, the scales even appear to be weeping. Your pediatrician will be able to diagnose a case of cradle cap by physical examination.

If your baby does have cradle cap, wash his or her hair more frequently and use a soft brush (a toddler toothbrush works well) to loosen the scales to be brushed away. If you do not notice a decrease in the flaking and scaling, you can try massaging the scalp with oil. You can use baby oil, mineral oil or even olive oil. Healing Natural Oils makes a cradle cap treatment, Heal Cradle Cap, from natural essential oils. Whatever oil you try, you should rub it on your infant's head, brush the scales away with the soft brush and wash his or her hair with a gentle shampoo.

In some cases of cradle cap, the home remedies of oil massaging and shampooing do not always work. Your pediatrician can prescribe a medicated shampoo for you to use on your baby. This shampoo contains salicylic acid and sulfur, which are remedies for dandruff.

However, this shampoo can be rough on your baby's scalp and skin, so use it as directed by the doctor. The doctor also may prescribe hydrocortisone cream to soothe any redness and rash that occurs in severe cases. If your baby does have cradle cap, you will need to watch for further irritation of his or her skin because yeast infections can occur, especially in skin folds behind the ears, in the folds of the neck and under arms.

If you notice any of this irritation, the rash spreading, and/or your baby acting as if he or she is uncomfortable, your pediatrician can give you an anti-fungal cream which will kill the yeast infection.

While cradle cap may be stubborn to treat, it is a relatively harmless, common and temporary condition. If you suspect your infant has cradle cap, take him or her to your pediatrician for an official diagnosis before trying any home remedies.

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Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.