You can’t wait to introduce your newborn baby to your friends and family, but you’re worried about what they’ll think when they see his yellowish, greasy scalp. Is it a sign of infection, and can they get infected? Does it mean you’re not cleaning and washing your baby enough? Will it spread all over, or will it clear up soon?
We’ll tackle all of these questions in the next few paragraphs. This applies to all types of locks, whether it be long or short, lots of hair, or barely even any.
Cradle cap, also known as seborrheic dermatitis, is a common skin condition commonly found in the scalp. The yellowish, greasy, scaly patches are common in infants and can resolve on its own in a span of months, up to 1-2 years of age. Home remedies for cradle cap include regular bathing, brushing of the hair, and application of oils. For persistent cases, a doctor may prescribe medicated shampoos or creams.
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What is cradle cap?
Cradle cap is a benign skin condition called seborrheic dermatitis, specifically affecting the scalp. It usually presents as thick, flaky skin with rough patches on the scalp. It can develop in babies from one to three months old. It’s also known as crib cap.
What are the signs and symptoms of cradle cap?
Babies with cradle cap usually have flaky skin with some rough, yellow to white, greasy or dry patches, found on the scalp. It’s seen mostly on the head and behind the ears. Some babies have patches on the nose or under the eyebrows.
A few cases may also have lesions in the groin or the armpits, but this isn’t usually common and should be verified by a doctor. For some infants, there may be an accompanying mild redness in the scalp or affected areas, or other areas of dry skin. Cradle cap is not itchy and not painful.
How common is it?
Seborrheic dermatitis is common in both babies and adults! While we call it cradle cap in babies, the adult equivalent is dandruff. Up to 70 percent of infants can develop cradle cap, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.
Why does my baby have it?
Currently, there is no definite cause of cradle cap. However, experts have noted that seborrheic dermatitis usually occurs on certain areas of the body with plenty of oil glands. These include the face, scalp, chest, and upper back.
Cradle cap is common in infancy, probably because of high hormone levels that have been passed on from the mother, through the placenta. These hormones may play a role in triggering a higher production of oil in these oil glands.
If you’re wondering, cradle cap is not an allergy, nor is it a side effect of another allergy.
Is cradle cap infectious?
Cradle cap is not an infection. It’s quite common in babies, and should resolve on its own after a few months. For very mild cases, it may even take only a few days! For persistent cases, the lesions can last up to 1-2 years old.
However, in some cases, persistent seborrheic dermatitis in infants may cause a secondary infection, which is usually fungal in nature (Malassezia). This is more commonly seen in cases that do not resolve on their own. These babies will need a visit to the doctor for further evaluation and treatment.
Just to clarify, cradle cap is not an allergy, nor is it a side effect of another allergy.
How is cradle cap diagnosed?
Cradle cap is usually diagnosed through a physical exam. This condition is quite common and rarely needs laboratory tests for confirmation.
A visit to the doctor will help rule out other skin conditions that might need different treatment. This includes eczema and skin infections. If your baby develops lesions on other parts of the body, or develops a fever, it is probably best to see a doctor.
What to do at home
The following are steps that you can take to prevent or lessen cradle cap in your little bundle of joy:
Regular bathing with shampoo
Something as simple as shampoo and soap can already help! This helps remove excess oils produced by your baby’s skin. Ensuring that you bathe your baby regularly and use hypoallergenic, scent-free shampoo will lessen the chance of triggering cradle cap.
Stop picking, start brushing
Trying to remove your baby’s scales, even by gently picking them, will not help at all. Instead of scratching these scales off, brush your child’s scalp instead.
Brushing is best done around 30 minutes after a bath, but can be done even on dry hair. Make sure to brush your baby’s hair once a day. For sensitive skin that easily reddens, it’s better to brush every other day. A soft hair brush will do fine.
Some stores sell brushes specially made for cradle cap. Some mothers even use new toothbrushes with very soft bristles! Others additionally use a clean washcloth just to loosen the scales.
Hydrate the skin
A few drops of oil can work wonders. It does seem counterintuitive to add more oil, but it helps soften the scales and flakes. Just make sure not to put more than a few drops on the scalp.
You can use mineral oil, baby oil, or plant oils, such as coconut oil, almond oil or sunflower oil. Avoid scented oils as these may predispose your child to developing allergies.
Experts have mixed opinions about using olive oil for cradle cap. It’s best to confirm with your doctor if you plan to use olive oil for your baby.
Apply a few drops on the affected area and massage it in for a minute or two. Let it stay for around 15 minutes, then wash it off. Most mothers apply baby oil right before shampooing, incorporating the scalp massage in the bath. This should be done only once a day.
After bathing, some parents choose to apply petroleum jelly instead of baby oil.
Let’s start with treatment
Not all home treatments will work on babies. Above all, it’s always better to let your doctor know about your baby’s condition first.
Medical treatment may consist of a mild anti-inflammatory cream or an antifungal shampoo. Your doctor will decide which treatment your baby will need. Never apply special shampoos or medications that are not prescribed by a doctor.
Since this condition is not itchy nor painful, your child does not need any additional medications for these.
Are there any complications?
Even without treatment, cradle cap gets better on its own after a few months. If your baby has been treated but his skin isn’t getting any better, a follow-up visit to your doctor should be done for new treatment options and to rule out problems with your baby’s immunity.
Cradle cap can cause matting of the hair, but is unlikely to cause hair loss or baldness in your baby.
Don’t forget how sensitive a baby’s eyes are — make sure that shampoo, oils, or medical products don’t get into their eyes while bathing, massaging their scalp, or brushing their hair. This may cause eye irritation and a second visit to the doctor for treatment.
Will the cradle cap come back?
How do we prevent cradle cap from happening again? Regular bathing and combing of the hair can already help seborrheic dermatitis from recurring. Once daily is usually sufficient, but it’s best to confirm how frequent this should be, with your child’s doctor.
Cradle cap, also known as seborrheic dermatitis or crib cap, is a non-infectious, benign skin condition. It presents as yellowish to whitish, greasy patches, and flaky skin. This is common in infants and will get better on its own in a few months, up to 1-2 years of age.
Regular bathing with a mild shampoo, daily brushing of your baby’s hair, and applying some oil or petroleum jelly may help. For persistent or severe cases, a doctor may prescribe medicated shampoos or creams.
Sarah is a healthcare writer, motivated by her love of reading books while growing up. She took up human biology and further studies in medicine, in order to fulfill her passion for helping kids. While she isn’t a biological mother yet, she has taken a young Siberian husky named Indy under her wing. She would love to someday travel the world and meet kids from different cultural backgrounds.