5 Steps to Getting Rid of Cradle Cap (Infantile Seborrheic Dermatitis) Naturally
Need to get rid of cradle cap? Use this quick and safe treatment plan to heal it once and for all!
As a new parent, you have a lot on your plate.
Between middle-of-the-night feedings, chronic sleep deprivation, and wondering if you should rush your baby to the ER every time they develop the sniffles, there’s a lot to stress about.
Inevitably, just as you start to feel like you have everything under control, a new challenge strikes. You think you’re getting the hang of raising a healthy newborn—and then their scalp breaks out in patches of rough, flaky scales.
Most likely, your baby’s scaly scalp is the result of cradle cap—a generally harmless condition that is common in infants who are three months old or less. Up to 10 percent of infants one month or younger experience it, while a whopping 70 percent of infants around the age of three months develop the condition at some point.
The prevalence decreases significantly as infants age; infantile seborrheic dermatitis affects only seven percent of children aged one to two years.
So for all the worried parents out there, the first thing to know if your child develops cradle cap is that you are most certainly not alone.
As for everything else you need to know about it? It’s all here in this guide.
We’ll talk about what cradle cap is, what causes it, how to treat it naturally, and how to prevent it from happening in the first place.
By the time you’re done reading, you’ll be able to put at least one parenting worry to rest.
First thing’s first: What is infantile seborrheic dermatitis, exactly?
While it may sound ominous, it’s really just a newborn version of dandruff. Also known as infantile seborrheic dermatitis, cradle cap is a condition in which infants develop rough, oily, and/or scaly patches on their scalp.
It’s called “cradle cap” because the patches typically form on an infant’s head, in the same area where they might wear a cap.
Symptoms of infantile seborrheic dermatitis include:
- Thick, patchy, or scaly crusts on the scalp. Scales may be white, yellow, or dark and are most likely to form on top of skin that has become greasy or dry
- Skin flakes
- In rare cases, some babies may lose hair in the area where they have cradle cap. The hair should grow back once the condition has improved
The condition often develops rapidly, and its appearance can be alarming: One day your child’s scalp is silky-smooth, and the next day it’s covered in scales.
Luckily, cradle cap isn’t really that serious.
It’s not painful or itchy; it’s not contagious; and mild cases tend to clear up on their own over the course of a few months. (If you want to speed up the healing process, check out some of the natural treatments below.)
Even though the condition is incredibly common, experts aren’t quite sure what causes infantile seborrheic dermatitis.
One theory is that patches may result when the oil glands in an infant’s skin over-produce the oilsembum. (This may be the result of hormones that were passed on from the mother to the infant prior to birth.) The excess sebum then makes it difficult for old skin cells to dry up and shed off the scalp, which means they stick around and form scaly patches.
There’s also a possible genetic link. Infants who develop it frequently have a family member who themselves has a condition such as asthma or eczema.
Another theory is that a variety of environmental and physiological factors may make an infant more susceptible to cradle cap. These include things like weather extremes, stress, skin disorders, and a weakened immune system.
One thing’s for certain: Cradle cap isn’t the result of poor hygiene. So don’t beat yourself up for bad parenting if your infant develops the condition. Devote that energy to learning how to get rid of it, instead.
While cradle cap typically goes away on its own over the course of a few weeks or months, many parents prefer to treat the condition so it clears up sooner.
The following treatment approaches are all proven methods for getting rid of the condition naturally—without the use of harmful chemicals or prescription medications.
1. Wash your Baby’s Scalp Every Day
This is one of the best strategies for removing excess oils produced by your baby’s skin and loosening the scales so they shed more quickly. One caveat: If your baby is prone to sensitive skin, consider washing their scalp every other day to reduce the risk of irritation.
Because shampoos and washes with harsh chemicals can cause more irritation (which sort of defeats the point of washing your baby’s scalp), it’s a good idea to choose a gentle, natural product.
Our Organic Castile Baby Wash is perfect for this. It uses safe, natural ingredients to keep your baby clean and their skin nourished.
2. Follow Each Washing with a Brushing
Once your baby’s scalp is clean, gently brush or comb their hair and scalp using a soft brush. This will further encourage the scales to fall off.
3. Amp up the Moisture
In many cases, it’s helpful to apply a moisturizing product to your baby’s scalp post-shampoo. This helps keep the skin hydrated, which can reduce irritation and flakiness.
For best results, wash your baby’s head, pat it partially dry, and then apply the moisturizer or balm. This helps seal in moisture to keep the skin hydrated.
Many sources advocate for the use of mineral or petroleum jelly, but these products pose potential health risks. For example, mineral oil may be irritating to the skin and respiratory system, while petroleum jelly may be harmful to the central nervous system and/or irritating to the skin and eyes. There’s also some evidence these ingredients may be carcinogenic.
For these reasons, you’re probably better off using a gentle, natural product. Our USDA Organic Super Balm is packed with ingredients that will help soothe your child’s scalp, such as chamomile, calendula, coconut oil, and avocado oil.
We’ve left out irritating and potentially harmful ingredients such as alcohol, petrolatum, parabens, and mineral oil, so you can rest easy knowing your child’s scalp is benefiting from deep hydration derived from purely natural ingredients.
And check out the results babies get!
4. Give Your Baby Scalp Massages
Gently rubbing your baby’s scalp has an exfoliating effect that can encourage scaly patches to fall off. Scalp massages also improve circulation, which further promotes healthier skin.
Use your fingers, a soft-bristled brush, or a damp baby cloth to gently massage your baby’s scalp every day.
5. Don’t Pick or Scratch
While it looks itchy or uncomfortable, the reality is that infants aren’t actually bothered by it. So while it may be tempting to pick or scratch the flakes, it’s better to leave them be. Scratching can lead to infection and may exacerbate the condition.
Even if these treatments prove effective, be aware that it’s not unusual for infantile seborrheic dermatitis to come back. You can reduce this likelihood with a few natural prevention strategies, which we’ve outlined in the next section.
If you’ve tried the whole gamut of cradle cap treatments and nothing seems to be working, it may be time to consult a doctor.
If the affected area spreads, your baby is exhibiting symptoms of thrush or a fungal ear infection, your child already has a weakened immune system, or the affected area becomes itchy or warm or starts to drain fluid, those are other signs that you should seek professional guidance.
As the saying goes, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” Taking steps to prevent it from developing may spare you (and your baby) the headaches involved in treating the condition.
While bad hygiene isn’t what causes cradle cap, certain hygiene practices may help prevent it. In fact, many of the strategies that aid with infantile seborrheic dermatitis treatment are also the best means of preventing the condition from cropping up in the first place.
1. Wash Your Baby’s Scalp Regularly
Washing your baby’s hair and scalp daily or every few days can help prevent the accumulation of flakes or scales that might otherwise develop into cradle cap.
Be sure to use a gentle, natural wash that won’t further irritate your baby’s skin.
2. After Washing, Apply a Moisturizer or Balm
This will help ensure your baby’s scalp stays hydrated. Dry skin is more likely to produce the excess oil that may be a cause of infantile seborrheic dermatitis, so a moisturizing routine is key.
3. Comb Your Baby’s Hair and Scalp Daily
Gently brushing your baby’s hair and scalp on a daily basis helps remove any flakes or scales that might otherwise stick around and contribute to cradle cap.
4. Stimulate Scalp Circulation
The better your baby’s circulation, the better their scalp will be equipped to shed flakes and scales so they don’t accumulate and form cradle cap.
To stimulate circulation, use your fingers or a wet baby cloth to gently rub your baby’s head on a regular basis.
Cradle cap is incredibly common, especially among infants three months of age or younger.
If your child develops this harmless condition, there’s no need to fret about your parenting skills. Instead, focus your energy on natural treatment methods.
By using gentle products and frequently washing, moisturizing, brushing, and massaging your child’s scalp, you’ll help speed up the skin’s healing process.
Maintaining similar strategies after your baby’s cradle cap has gone away (or before it ever develops) will help prevent the condition from cropping up down the road.
So breathe a sigh of relief: Here’s one parenting challenge you can stop stressing about.
If your baby develops another kind of rash you can learn how to heal it here: The Complete Guide to Treating Your Baby’s Rash Quickly and Naturally