Cradle Cap: Treatment and Causes

Cradle Cap: Treatment and Causes

With its funny color and crusty appearance, cradle cap can look a little scary. But while you might expect it to cause discomfort or pain for your little one, it almost certainly won’t. In fact, it is harmless, and should disappear all by itself in a matter of weeks or months.
So, what is cradle cap? And is there a way to treat it? Don’t worry, we’ve got the answers.

In this article: 📝

  • What is cradle cap?
  • What does cradle cap look like?
  • What is the main cause of cradle cap?
  • When do babies usually get cradle cap?
  • How to treat cradle cap

What is cradle cap?

Cradle cap is the common name for infantile seborrheic dermatitis, a skin condition that occurs in newborn babies.

The symptoms? You’ll notice oily skin, crusty or scaly patches, and white or yellowish areas — usually on your baby’s head.

However, cradle cap is a bit of a misnomer.

The symptoms of cradle cap can also appear on your baby’s nose, ears, eyelids, and/or diaper area.

While cradle cap can look a little unpleasant, it is painless.

If your baby’s skin condition seems to be causing them discomfort, itching, or pain, it probably isn’t cradle cap.

Instead, your baby may have eczema or atopic dermatitis.

If you are in doubt about your baby’s skin condition, it’s a good idea to talk with your pediatrician.

Is cradle cap a fungal infection?

No, cradle cap isn’t technically a fungal infection, in and of itself.

But one of the possible causes of cradle cap could be a type of fungus called Malassezia.

What does cradle cap look like?

We’re gonna say it: cradle cap can look gross.

Cradle cap looks like flaky, crusty bits of baby’s skin and mainly appears on their head ‒- hence the name.

But cradle cap on eyebrows and cradle cap on eyelids isn’t unheard of, either.

Cradle cap vs dry scalp

How can you tell the difference between cradle cap and a dry scalp?

It’s all about how they feel to the touch.

Gently touch baby’s head on the flaky part ‒ if it feels dry, it’s dry scalp. If it feels oily, it’s cradle cap.

What does an infected cradle cap look like?

Although it’s rare, cradle cap can get infected.

You’ll know baby’s cradle cap is infected if the skin looks sorer with leaking blisters.

To avoid an infected cradle cap, steer away from harsh topical treatments and do not pick at the cradle cap.

Does cradle cap smell?

Most of the time, baby’s cradle cap will not smell.

However, some mamas on Peanut have reported a sort of ‘oily’ smell at the worst of their baby’s cradle cap.

If your baby’s cradle cap smells bad or smells of something other than a faint oily smell, it’s best to check in with a doctor.

What is the main cause of cradle cap?

Are you wondering how to prevent cradle cap? The first thing to know is what causes it.

Unfortunately, doctors aren’t really sure what causes it.

But we do know that cradle cap is definitely not your fault, and it probably can’t be prevented.

Let’s take a look at some of the possible causes of cradle cap.

No one is sure what causes cradle cap, but doctors tend to think it all comes down to hormones.

When your baby is still in your tummy, you are sharing all sorts of things with each other through the placenta.

It’s possible that too many hormones pass from you to your little one and overstimulate their oil glands.

The excess oil causes dead skin cells to stick to your baby’s head rather than falling off.

Another possible cradle cap cause is a particular fungus called Malassezia.

This guy is responsible for many cases of dandruff in adults.

It lives in oil on the scalp and may cause dead skin to crust up and peel excessively.

It is not harmful and won’t cause any long-term problems.

Some other things to know about cradle cap:

  • It’s not contagious – meaning that your baby hasn’t caught it anywhere.
  • It is not a sign of bad hygiene or uncleanliness. It’s just there through no fault of anyone’s – and will disappear in a few weeks or months.

Does cradle cap cause hair loss?

While cradle cap may cause a little matting in baby’s hair, it won’t cause hair loss by itself.

A lot of babies get cradle cap each year (around 2 of every 5 babies will get it in their first 3 months), and most grow up with a full head of hair.

When do babies usually get cradle cap?

As we’ve said before, cradle cap is common in young babies ‒ around 40% will experience it.

The majority of this 40% of babies will have cradle cap from 3 weeks to 3 months.

How long does a cradle cap last?

If your baby has cradle cap, try not to worry.

Cradle cap doesn’t cause baby any pain (unless it gets infected, which is rare), and will likely clear up in about two weeks.

But maybe it’s not a good time to schedule any photo sessions, for now…

How to treat cradle cap

What is the fastest way to get rid of cradle cap?

As we said, cradle cap doesn’t necessarily need treatment.

However, we get that some mamas don’t want their babies to look like the before picture on a dandruff shampoo ad.

So, how do you get rid of cradle cap on babies?

How can I get rid of my baby’s cradle cap?

Here are a few things that should do the trick.

  • Rub vegetable oil or petroleum jelly onto the affected areas or cradle cap. This can loosen the flakes and help them come off easier when you shampoo.
  • Wash your baby’s hair and scalp (or other affected area) with a very gentle baby shampoo. With the shampoo still in, you can use a very soft, fine-toothed comb to gently loosen the flakes.
  • Gently rub baby’s scalp with a damp cloth. “Gently” is the key word here.

Should I use a cradle cap brush?

You can get special cradle cap brushes that are gentle on baby’s scalp, which can help lift any errant flakes without causing pain or making their cradle cap worse.

What’s the best cradle cap brush? It’s totally up to you, but our mamas on Peanut have been raving about the Fridababy DermaFrida FlakeFixer, available on Amazon.

Should I use cradle cap shampoo?

A cradle cap shampoo can help loosen and lift any flakes on baby’s head and may help speed up the treatment process.

But you have to make sure the cradle cap shampoo is unperfumed and contains no irritants ‒ the milder the better.

You don’t need to scrub the shampoo in, either, just gently rub it around baby’s head, then follow up with a cradle cap brush.

Can I use coconut oil for cradle cap?

Yes, you can use a little coconut oil to help treat cradle cap.

When it comes to cradle cap, coconut oil can loosen the flakes to make it easier to brush them off with a soft cradle cap brush ‒ a little goes a long way!

Just be sure to wash out the coconut oil afterward.

Can I use olive oil for cradle cap?

The jury’s still out on whether you can use olive oil for cradle cap.

Some mamas on Peanut say olive oil works wonders, helping to ease flakes off baby’s head, but others say it’s encouraged the cradle cap to grow.

Can I use Selsun Blue for cradle cap?

Selsun Blue is a medicated anti-dandruff shampoo used by adults.

As it’s medicated and created for adults, it’s best not to use this to treat cradle cap.

Plus, as we’ve said before, cradle cap isn’t actually dandruff, so it’s best to avoid using Selsun Blue for cradle cap.

If you’re not sure, check in with your doctor.

Can I use Aquaphor for cradle cap?

Aquaphor is pretty mild and moisturizing, and doctors generally say you can use it to treat cradle cap.

Some mamas on Peanut swear by Aquaphor for cradle cap, saying it treated their baby’s cradle cap in just days.

But it is best to check in with your own doctor, just in case.

Can I use breast milk for cradle cap?

Again, some mamas on Peanut say using breast milk for cradle cap is a miracle cure ‒ some doctors agree, but some others… not so much.

If you want to try using breast milk for cradle cap, it can be worthwhile checking in with your doctor first.

Do cradle cap creams work?

Hmm. We can’t really say whether cradle cap creams work for sure, because there are so many different types out there.

Some work, some don’t, and, unfortunately, some seem to exacerbate the cradle cap.

Most doctors advise using vegetable oil and a mild shampoo to treat baby’s cradle cap, rather than cradle cap creams ‒ you shouldn’t need anything medicated.

Are there any essential oils for cradle cap?

It’s a bit controversial, but the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians suggests avoiding any essential oils on babies less than three months old, as they can cause further skin irritation and increase the risk of infection.

So it’s best to avoid essential oils for cradle cap entirely.

Can I use tea tree oil for cradle cap?

While some mamas claim tea tree oil helped clear up their baby’s cradle cap in days, as we mentioned earlier, it’s generally best to avoid essential oils on baby’s skin.

Is it OK to pick cradle cap off?

It’s a common question: can I pick my baby’s cradle cap?

It’s best not to. Scratching should be avoided too, as they can both cause infection.

But like we said earlier, you can definitely just leave your baby’s cradle cap alone.

The flakes will fall off on their own soon enough, revealing that baby-soft skin we all know and love.

What happens if you scratch cradle cap?

If you intentionally scratch baby’s cradle cap, it can get infected.

This is because you’re further breaking the skin, leaving it open to germs and bacteria.

If you accidentally scratch baby’s cradle cap once, it should be okay, but if it looks like the skin is more raw underneath, it could be worth checking in with your doctor.

Will cradle cap go away on its own?

Yes. In most cases, cradle cap will go away by itself in a couple of weeks.

But if you’re worried about infection or anything else, it’s best to check in with your healthcare provider.

There you have it ‒ everything you need to know about cradle cap treatments, causes, and what to do if your baby has cradle cap.

Got a family secret on how to treat cradle cap? Or looking for advice from other mamas going through the same?

Join us on Peanut and have a chat with our community of mamas!

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