Babies are known for their soft, smooth skin. But is your newborn’s normally baby smooth skin looking a little, well, flaky and scaly? Has your baby’s scalp hit a rough patch?
Before you throw a cap on them and call the doctor, Brenda Kronborg, DO, a pediatrician with Banner Children’s - Banner Health Clinic in Mesa, AZ, helps put your mind at ease regarding an all-too-common condition known as cradle cap.
What is cradle cap?
“Cradle cap, known medically as infantile seborrheic dermatitis, is a common condition among newborns and babies that causes rough, scaly, crusty or oily patches on their scalp,” Dr. Kronborg said.
While unsightly, it is not connected with an illness and definitely isn’t harmful or painful for your baby. This skin condition got its name because it’s most commonly found on your baby’s scalp. But here’s a real head scratcher, it can also appear in other places too, such as their face, ears, armpits and diaper area.
The causes of cradle cap still aren’t known, but Dr. Kronborg said it’s not caused by poor hygiene.
“One contributing factor may be hormones that pass from the mother to the baby before birth,” Dr. Kronborg said. “These hormones can cause too much production of sebum in the oil glands and hair follicles. Another factor that may contribute is a strain of yeast found on the skin called Malassezia.”
How to remedy it?
Typically, cradle cap doesn’t require treatment and usually clears up on its own in a few months. However, if it bothers you, Dr. Kronborg shared some things you can do at home to tackle it head-on.
Shampoo regularly. Wash your baby’s hair and scalp regularly with a gentle baby shampoo.
“When cradle cap keeps coming back a few days after you scrape it away, switching to a medicated shampoo a few times a week might be an effective treatment,” Dr. Kronborg added. “Shampoos containing the antifungal medication ketoconazole, or 1% selenium sulfide may also be used to treat cradle cap, however dandruff shampoos that contain salicylic acid aren’t recommended for babies as they can be harmful.”
Massage oils. Massaging a drop or two of baby oil on your baby’s scalp can act as a moisturizing agent and help loosen the flakes without irritating your baby’s skin. Olive oil and vegetable oil also work well for removing the scales.
“Anti-inflammatory essential oils like lemon or geranium and carrier oils like jojoba and coconut may soothe the scalp,” Dr. Kronborg said. “Although there have been no studies for these, it wouldn’t be harmful.”
Spread baby oil or petroleum jelly on the dry patches, then wait 15 minutes to let the scales soften before removing them. Use shampoo and warm water to wash away the oil when you're finished. Leaving traces of oil can actually make the problem worse by causing more scales to form.
Brush it away. Gently brush your baby’s head with a soft brush or warm, wet wash cloth.
Resist the temptation to pick at the scales, as this can cause irritation.
Use a humidifier. Infants with cradle cap often have other symptoms related to dry, irritated skin. Using a humidifier keeps the air moist and humid so the skin doesn’t get as dry.
For nursing moms: Eat foods rich in Omega-3 essential fatty acid oils, such as fish and flaxseed oil, and alkalizing foods, such as brown rice and water. Avoid acidic foods like tea, coffee and alcohol.
When should you call the doctor?
If your baby’s cradle cap isn’t getting better or is inflamed, red or itchy, your doctor may recommend a hydrocortisone cream or prescription strength shampoo to help relieve the symptoms. But only use these under the direction of your baby’s physician.
In rare cases, cradle cap is associated with a food allergy. You should consult your baby’s physician immediately if you notice other symptoms such as diarrhea or rash in other parts of the body.
While it’s not pretty to look at (the cradle cap, not your baby), just remember that it’s temporary and isn’t bothersome to them. In most cases it can be treated at home and usually resolves itself within a few months. Using the above remedies can also help kick it to the curb.
If you still have concerns and would like advice, you can call Banner Health’s Nurses Now, a free health care service available 24 hours a day, at 844-259-9494. To find an experienced physician near you, visit bannerhealth.com.