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% of infants will develop cradle cap within their first 3 months, meaning the condition is incredibly common. In this post, you’ll find out what is cradle cap, what potentially causes it and how to get rid of cradle cap.
What is Cradle Cap?
These unsightly yellowish scales may not look the best, but they’re really just harmless baby dandruff. If you want to get fancy, 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. (source)
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)
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. 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 that helps remedy this issue. Antibiotics can also be administered with Group B Strep Positive.
- A yeast infection. The yeast malassezia has been implicated with causing 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, you could 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. You can 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.
What are the Best Cradle Cap Treatments?
A conventional cradle cap treatment ranges from waiting it out, to chemically medicated shampoos and topical steroid treatments. There are plenty of natural methods out there, but the following are my top choices for how to get rid of cradle cap.
Since cradle cap doesn’t hurt or itch, the easiest option is to just leave it be. In most cases cradle cap isn’t harmful and will clear on its own, typically within a few months. However, the presence of cradle cap can signal a deeper issue, like a gut imbalance or mineral deficiency that does need to be addressed.
1. Supplement and nourish
If you’re breastfeeding, then it may help to increase your nutrient intake. (Here are some especially nourishing meals for new moms!) Specifically biotin, zinc, B6, selenium and manganese can help remedy cradle cap. If breastfeeding isn’t an option, then you can look into adding nutrient-rich foods when baby is ready for solids.
Omega-3s and vitamin D added to the diet can also help with cradle cap by improving skin health. These can be taken as supplements, or increased in the diet through food. Talk to your pediatrician about adding a few drops of cod liver oil, which is rich in vitamin D and omega 3’s, under baby’s tongue or even adding topically to cradle cap sores.
Wild caught salmon, oysters, flax seed and chia seed are good sources of omega-3’s. Butter, tuna, salmon beef liver and egg yolks are good sources of vitamin D. If you’re not breastfeeding, then a little cod liver oil can be added to baby’s bottle.
Some recommend putting ¼ tsp slippery elm in the baby’s bottle, or on the nipple prior to breastfeeding. This helps soothe the digestive tract and helps their body assimilate nutrients more efficiently. Talk to your doctor before implementing, especially if baby is under 4 months old!
Even if you do opt for a topical cradle cap treatment, it’s a good idea to simultaneously correct any root issues through diet or supplementation.
2. Add in probiotics
Boost baby’s gut flora by adding an infant probiotic to their bottle (where to buy), or using this DIY nipple cream if you are breastfeeding. Alternatively, the breastfeeding mother can boost her consumption of high-quality and effective probiotics (where to buy). Fermented foods like kefir, kombucha, sauerkraut, yogurt and fermented veggies are all good dietary sources of probiotics.
3. Soften with oil
Apply coconut oil, almond or olive oil to the affected area, let it sit for about an hour then follow up with a shampooing. Some parents have found simply massaging a raw, vegetable oil into the scalp once a day works wonders. Massaging the scalp is also great for stimulating the baby’s neural pathways!
Calendula infused cream (where to buy), or a thin layer of shea butter can also be applied to the scalp. These help to calm inflammation and nourish baby’s tender skin.
4. Exfoliate with a brush
After using a special shampoo, or several hours after applying an oil, the scalp can be gently brushed. The softened scales will come off much more easily, without damaging the scalp. Just be sure to use a very soft bristle, natural brush like this one.
5. Use a special shampoo (but not too much)
Conventional dandruff shampoos, that are sometimes used on babies contain harsh ingredients like coal tar and salicylic acid. Fortunately, you can make your own that are natural and gentle (see recipes below). Be careful not to over wash though.
Frequent shampooing strips the natural oils from delicate skin and can actually cause an overproduction of the scalp’s sebum. Shampooing two or three times a week is a good goal, although with my son we almost never used shampoo and had good success keeping hair clean.
Cradle Cap Shampoo #1: Chamomile Shampoo
While there are some special cradle cap shampoos on the market, they might contain unnecessary fragrances and parabens. It’s easy to make your own formula at home.
- ¼ tsp unscented Castile soap
- 2 chamomile tea bags
- 2 cups hot water
- 1 drop each tea tree and lavender essential oil (where to buy)
- 1 TB olive or coconut oil
- Gently massage 1 tablespoon of oil and essential oils onto baby’s scalp for about 2 minutes.
- Let the oil sit in baby’s scalp for 20 minutes.
- Comb baby’s hair several times to loosen up the cradle cap and start removing the flaky skin.
- Meanwhile, soak 2 organic chamomile tea bags in 2 cups of hot water for 20 minutes. Remove tea bags and be sure that the water is warm, or at room temperature.
- Put baby in the bath and rub their hair with ¼ tsp castile soap and scrub thoroughly yet gently.
- Slowly rinse the scalp with the warm (not hot!) chamomile tea, being careful not to get soap into baby’s eyes. Rub the scalp and be sure all of the soap is washed out.
- Comb baby’s hair well to remove any remaining flakes. Repeat 2-3 times a week.
Cradle Cap Shampoo #2 Apple Cider Vinegar Elixir
Apple cider vinegar is a miracle worker for so many things, and cradle cap is no different. It’s probiotic and antifungal to help balance out the scalp naturally.
- 2 Tbsp raw apple cider vinegar
- 1/4 cup filtered water
- Pour the mixture over baby’s scalp, making sure that none gets in their eyes.
- Massage the scalp for a few minutes and then let the vinegar mixture sit on there for 10 minutes before rinsing out with water.
Cradle Cap Shampoo #3 Iodine Aloe Gel
Aloe is soothing to the skin, but one study also found that at just 30%, aloe vera improved dandruff symptoms by a whopping 58%. For this recipe you can get a small aloe vera plant from the health food store, or a large aloe vera leaf. Kroger and Whole Foods usually sell aloe leaves like this.
- Aloe vera leaf
- 1-2 drops nascent iodine (where to buy)
- Unscented Castile soap
- Cut a small portion of the leaf and extract 1 tablespoon of aloe vera gel. Add 1-2 drops of nascent iodine and apply to baby’s scalp.
- Leave on for at least 20 minutes and then wash out with Castile soap.
What about the Doctor?
Always check with your health care practitioner or doctor before giving baby supplements or remedies. If the cradle cap 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.
What About You?
Did your baby have cradle cap? Did you treat it in any way, and how long did it take to clear up?