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Best Natural Treatments For Cradle Cap

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All About Cradle Cap

Cradle cap causes greasy, yellowish scales and flaky skin on your baby’s scalp. It may also affect the face or body. The overproduction of skin oils and the presence of yeast is thought to be responsible for this common condition among babies. Cradle cap generally resolves on its own. To help this along, try loosening crusty skin with a soft brush and using a mild shampoo. You could also first massage in mineral oil for crusts that are difficult to loosen.

The appearance of scaly yellowish skin on your baby’s scalp can worry you. But this is usually not a cause for concern. A common and harmless condition known as seborrheic dermatitis is usually the cause for this. It is commonly known as cradle cap in infants and dandruff in adults.

Cradle cap is not contagious nor is it an allergic reaction. Most importantly, it’s not dangerous. It usually appears in babies in the first two or three months after birth and mostly clears up by the time the baby is a year old. In some instances, however, cradle cap can be seen in toddlers as old as three years.1 2

What Causes Cradle Cap?

Some babies have high levels of their mother’s hormones in their bodies for many weeks or months after birth. These hormones make the sebaceous or oil glands in the skin produce more oil or sebum. This in turn can cause cradle cap.3 A kind of yeast known as malassezia which grows in sebum is another trigger that could cause cradle cap.4

Let’s take a look at some signs that point to cradle cap and how you can deal with this condition.

What Does Cradle Cap Look Like?

Cradle cap can look different from baby to baby. It’s mostly found on the scalp but can also affect your baby’s eyelids, ears, nose, eyebrows, neck, or groin. It may affect skin folds too – for instance, in the armpits or back of the knees.

The symptoms of cradle cap include:

  • Yellowish crusts on affected areas
  • Greasy patches of skin generally covered with yellow or white scales
  • Flaking or scaling of skin

Other signs to watch out for:

  • Your baby’s skin might appear reddish when the scales start to flake.
  • Sometimes you may notice hair loss too as the hair comes away with skin flakes. However, the hair generally grows back once the cradle cap goes away.5

Do note: Cradle cap doesn’t generally cause discomfort or itching, so if you notice swelling or if your baby’s scratching her head, it could point to others conditions like atopic eczema, which is also common in babies. This can be painful and cause blisters and severe itching. Atopic eczema, unlike cradle cap, is often associated with food allergies.6 7

How Can You Treat Cradle Cap?

Cradle cap generally clears up on its own in a few months. However, here’s what you can do to help it along.

1. Gently Massage The Scalp

Use a soft toothbrush, a soft hair brush, or just your fingers to gently massage and loosen crusty skin.

2. Try Mineral Oil

If the crusts do not come off easily, you can loosen them by massaging your baby’s scalp with mineral oil. Leave it in for about an hour before shampooing.

3. Rinse With A Mild Shampoo Or Ayurvedic Hair Cleanser

Wash daily with a mild shampoo as long as your baby has scales, making sure all the shampoo is rinsed off. Once the scales go away, shampooing a couple of times a week should suffice.

Do keep in mind that cradle cap can come back even after it disappears as your baby’s oil glands may continue to produce excess oil.

4. Brush Hair Gently

Brush your baby’s hair with a soft, clean brush after you shampoo, as well as a few times through the day to get rid of scaly skin. Make sure you clean the brush with soap and water to remove scalp oil or scales.8 9

Why You Can’t Use Natural Plant Oils For Treating Cradle Cap

Olive Oil Or Coconut Oil

Oils like olive oil and coconut oil are commonly recommended for softening scales in cradle cap. But they contain saturated and unsaturated fatty acids. According to research, malassezia, the yeast associated with cradle cap, uses saturated fatty acids to grow. Excess unsaturated fatty acids may also cause inflammation and scaling. It might, therefore, be better to stick to mineral oil or petroleum jelly, which are not digestible by yeast, for dealing with cradle cap.10 11

Essential Oils

Some essential oils like tea tree oil, eucalyptus oil, and cinnamon oil act against malassezia, the yeast associated with seborrhoeic dermatitis.12 13 14 But they might be too strong and, therefore, unsuitable for infants.15 16 However, for adults, adding a few drops of one of these essential oils to regular shampoo can be helpful in treating dandruff.

When To See A Doctor

You should seek medical attention for your baby in the following cases:

  • The symptoms don’t go away or seem to get worse after home care.
  • The condition spreads to your baby’s face or body.
  • Sometimes, the skin covered by crusts can get infected. Check if affected patches of skin ooze pus or fluid, become painful, or very red. This might indicate an infection which needs to be treated by your baby’s doctor. If your baby has fever, it could indicate a worsening infection.17 18

References   [ + ]

1, 4. Cradle Cap. The Nemours Foundation.
2, 3, 5, 18. Cradle cap. Department of Health & Human Services.
6. Cradle cap. National Health Service.
7. Eczema in Children. American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology.
8, 17. Cradle cap. National Institutes of Health.
9. Cradle cap. Department of Health & Human Services.
10. Siegfried, Elaine, and Erica Glenn. “Use of olive oil for the treatment of seborrheic dermatitis in children.” Archives of pediatrics & adolescent medicine 166, no. 10 (2012): 967-967.
11. Vijayakumar, R., C. Muthukumar, T. Kumar, and R. Saravanamuthu. “Characterization of Malassezia Furfur and its control by using plant extracts.” Indian journal of Dermatology 51, no. 2 (2006): 145.
12. Satchell, Andrew C., Anne Saurajen, Craig Bell, and Ross StC Barnetson. “Treatment of dandruff with 5% tea tree oil shampoo.” Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology 47, no. 6 (2002): 852-855.
13. Selvakumar, P. “Studies on the antidandruff activity of the essential oil of Coleus amboinicus and Eucalyptus globulus.” Asian Pacific Journal of Tropical Disease 2 (2012): S715-S719.
14. Pooja, A. R. O. R. A., N. Arun, and K. Maninder. “Screening of plant essential oils for antifungal activity against Malassezia furfur.” International Journal of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences 5, no. 2 (2013): 37-39.
15. Eucalyptus. National Institutes of Health.
16. Tea Tree Uses. Australian Tea Tree Industry Association.