Cradle Cap: What Is It? And Do You Need to Worry About It?

Learn what causes that dry, scaly stuff on baby’s head. Plus, find out how to treat it naturally.

What is cradle cap? Should you be worried? See what cradle cap really is, what causes it, and how to get rid of it for good with these 5 natural remedies.

You may be wondering about those unsightly scaly patches that just appeared on your cute baby’s head. It’s probably cradle cap, and it’s nothing to freak out about. Up to 70 percent of infants will develop this condition within their first three months, meaning the condition is incredibly common. In this post, you’ll find out what it is, how to spot it, and what potentially causes it. Plus, learn how to treat it with natural remedies.

What is Cradle Cap?

These unsightly yellowish scales may not look the best, but they’re really just harmless baby dandruff. According to the Cleveland Clinic, the technical name for this scalp condition is infantile seborrheic dermatitis. Babies typically develop cradle cap between two weeks and six months of age, however there are some cases where the baby was born with it.

What Does Cradle Cap Look Like?

The scales are yellow tinged, and are typically greasy, though they can sometimes be dry. Unlike adult dandruff, there’s no itching or irritation involved, however they can be accompanied by redness. These scales can also show up in the eyebrows, groin, armpits, ears, and eyelids. (source)

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What Causes Cradle Cap?

No one knows for sure what exactly causes cradle cap, but there seem to be several likely culprits. Here are the theories:

  • A bacteria imbalance in the gut. Your baby is especially susceptible to this if they were given antibiotics during delivery. Antibiotics are routinely administered during a C-section. That’s a double whammy, since a C-section baby also isn’t exposed to mama’s good gut flora by exiting the vaginal canal. See how to plan a gentle C-section here to help remedy this issue. Antibiotics may also be administered if mom is Group B Strep positive.
  • A yeast infection. The yeast malassezia is said to cause certain types of dandruff and cradle cap. While this yeast occurs naturally in the body, when things get out of balance it tends to take over, causing dandruff. This ties in with the idea that cradle cap is caused by an imbalanced gut microbiome. (source)
  • A weakened immune system. Breast milk is loaded with immune enhancing properties. If you aren’t able to breastfed, look into donor milk or healthy formula options.
  • Nutritional imbalances. A deficiency in biotin, zinc, B6, selenium, or manganese can all contribute to cradle cap. Look into supplementing baby’s diet with foods rich in these nutrients when he/she is ready for solids.
  • Elevated maternal hormones. The theory is that this can cause baby’s sebaceous glands to overproduce. This causes an overproduction of sebum and an overgrowth of new skin cells, therefore an abundance of flakey, crusty skin.

Cradle Cap Treatment

A conventional cradle cap treatment ranges from waiting it out, to chemically medicated shampoos and topical steroid treatments. But there are plenty of natural methods out there. Learn how to get rid of cradle cap

Getting Rid of Cradle Cap: Should You See a Doctor?

Always check with your health care practitioner or doctor before giving baby supplements or remedies for cradle cap. If it becomes significantly inflamed, itchy, cracked, or oozes fluid, a trip to the doctor is a good idea. However, in most cases cradle cap is a cosmetic issue and nothing to be worried about.

How About You?

Did your baby have cradle cap? Did you treat it in any way, and how long did it take to clear up?

Genevieve Howland

About the Author

Genevieve Howland is a childbirth educator and breastfeeding advocate. She is the bestselling author of The Mama Natural Week-by-Week Guide to Pregnancy and Childbirth and creator of the Mama Natural Birth Course. A mother of three, graduate of the University of Colorado, and YouTuber with over 85,000,000 views, she helps mothers and moms-to-be lead healthier and more natural lives.

11 Comments

  1. I used the topically applied baby probiotic and it worked really well on my baby’s cradle cap and red spots on his face. The day before we were going to go to a party, I noticed his face had several spots that seemed really angry and he had red inflammation spreading all over his head with a few of the dry cradle cap spots starting to form. We dabbed coconut oil with baby probiotic powder from Whole Foods and within 12 hours it was much less red and inflamed. Within 24 hours it seemed to be cleared up except for the dry spots that still need to be removed (no red spots or inflammation). We left the probiotic coconut mixture on overnight and washed it off in the morning.

    I had read that cradle cap is harmless, but I have to say, he looks a lot more comfortable without the splotches and it was nice that it cleared up before we had a bunch of people at the party asking if he was okay.

    Reviewers seem to like the spray you can purchase on Amazon, I will order and try for future issues. The oil and probiotic mixture leaves a messy looking cap, so I can see how spray might be cleaner and easier to use.

  2. My doctor recommended Selsun Blue for my LO. He said that this treatment 2-3 times a week. But it works for a day then the cradle cap comes back. So it really is an every other day process

  3. I know they say not to, but after my children’s bath, I put a very small amount of baby oil on their scalps and then with a gentle baby brush would brush and massage their scalp. I didn’t wash the baby oil out either. It worked great on all 3 of my kids. Within a week no more cradle cap but I kept putting the baby oil on after their bath. It was a bed time routine with us. It never came back.

    • I agree with you Susan this is what I do as well and never had an issue with either of my boys.

  4. massage raw honey into scalp (and let sit for a few minutes) in a warm bath (careful when rinsing it away) to help exfoliate and then apply calendula infused beeswax salve after bath. also a brown sugar and coconut oil mix helped slough off the dead skin. i was too worried to use a brush on her delicate scalp but she enjoyed the gentle massaging. frequency seemed to be my missing piece (i wasn’t doing it everyday) and it didn’t clear up quickly.

  5. My midwife says it is caused by a dairy allergy. I know I need to remove dairy from my diet anyway… And I am working on it, but is this true? I can’t seem to find any research to back this up…

    • My baby has a cows milk alergy but is on neocate so no cows milk is getting into her but she has since developed cradle cap so wouldn’t have thought so 🙂

  6. I put breastmilk on it! I would dab just a little breastmilk on her head and gentle massage in when it looked bad or dry. It worked great. It’s naturally antibacterial and the enzymes work to very gently exfoliate.
    No problems after a few weeks!

  7. Avocado oil with a drop or two of lemon essential oil and tea tree oil. Apply, massage, comb out with a super fine tooth comb. Repeat if necessary. Works on toddlers too! Worked better than coconut oil for us!

  8. Try a Norwex microfiber baby cloth and plain water. Use it gently on baby’s scalp every day. Cradle cap will be gone in a few days. Easy. Continue to use the cloth daily to prevent cradle cap’s return. I find that putting oil on the baby’s scalp makes it worse. Agree that breastfeeding is essential and good nutrition and supplements important.


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