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What is Cradle Cap?
Have you ever noticed yellow scaly patches on a baby’s head or scalp? These oily, crusty patches usually indicate a scalp condition commonly known as cradle cap. The technical name for this condition is infantile seborrheic dermatitis. It is a very common condition that shows up on approximately 70% of all infants.
These unattractive yellow scales are really nothing more than harmless baby dandruff. Babies typically develop cradle cap between two weeks and six months of age. You can often find cradle cap on the scalp, forehead, ears, eyebrows, eyelids, armpits and other creases like the groin.
The skin patches can either be dry and flaky, like dandruff, or oily, thick, yellowish or brown. Seborrheic dermatitis takes its name from the oil-producing sebaceous glands. The areas of the body that are most affected by cradle cap also have the largest number of these glands.
Although cradle cap is unsightly, especially on a cute baby, it is usually nothing to be concerned about. It is not contagious, nor is it the result of poor hygiene. Some parents have difficulty distinguishing cradle cap from other skin conditions such as eczema, so it might be a good idea to have your doctor confirm the condition if you are unsure.
What Causes Cradle Cap?
Conventional medicine does not yet acknowledge an exact cause of cradle cap, but there are several theories and possible causes:
- Some researchers believe it is due to an overproduction of skin oil (sebum) in the oil glands and hair follicles. This may be because of hormones that pass from the mom to baby prior to birth. A type of yeast (fungus) called malassezia can grow in the sebum along with bacteria, and this may be another factor in the development of cradle cap.
- For some babies, cradle cap is thought to be caused by a fungal infection, which could be related to antibiotics given to the mother or baby during the pregnancy, birth, or during the hospital stay.
- Cradle cap may also occur as a reaction to baby shampoos or lotions that contain alcohol and other harsh ingredients. Sometimes, a food allergy or other sensitivity may also contribute to cradle cap.
- Infantile seborrheic dermatitis may also be due to a nutrient deficiency in biotin, zinc, B6, selenium or manganese.
- Some holistic practitioners believe that cradle cap may be a result of an imbalanced gut microbiome.
11 Natural Remedies for Cradle Cap
1. Focus on Nutrition
If you are breastfeeding, consider increasing biotin, zinc, B6, selenium and manganese in your diet. If breastfeeding isn’t an option, then you can look into adding nutrient-rich foods when your baby is ready for solids.
Omega-3 EFA’s and vitamin D added to the diet is also known to improve skin health. I highly recommend this brand of cod liver oil for mom and baby, which is rich in natural vitamin D and Omega 3’s.
Most cod liver oils have been heat-processed, which destroys valuable nutrients. Fermented cod liver oil is cold-processed through fermentation, so it retains high levels of fat-soluble vitamins and Omega-3s that are not damaged by high temperatures. In addition to oral supplementation, cod liver oil can also be applied topically to cradle cap rashes.
Other great food sources of Omega 3 include wild caught salmon, oysters, flax seed and chia seed. Grass-fed butter, tuna, salmon, beef liver and pasture-raised egg yolks are all excellent sources of vitamin D. Add a little cod liver oil to your baby’s bottle if you are not breastfeeding. Talk to your baby’s doctor before supplementing with cod liver oil or other nutritional supplements.
Talk to your doctor about using an infant probiotic. This is my favorite brand. If you are breastfeeding, you and your baby will both benefit from increasing your own intake of probiotics. Fermented foods like homemade kefir, kombucha, sauerkraut, yogurt and fermented vegetables are all excellent real food sources of probiotics! Fermented foods are even more effective than taking actual probiotic supplements. I highly recommend learning more about the benefits of fermented foods and beverages. Learn more about the many health benefits of fermented foods in this post.
3. Edible Oil Treatment
Apply a small amount (about 1 teaspoon) of organic extra virgin coconut oil, olive oil or almond oil and rub gently into the baby’s scalp. Allow the oil to soak into baby’s skin for at least one hour. I like to leave the oil on the skin overnight and then follow with a gentle brushing or combing to remove the loose, flaky skin. Afterwards, the oil can be removed with a gentle baby soap.
Do not use baby oil on your baby’s skin! Baby oil is made from mineral oil, which is a highly processed synthetic oil that is actually a byproduct of gasoline – yuck! Don’t be fooled by its perfumed baby scent either. In my opinion, it is not safe to use on ANY human skin, not to mention delicate baby skin! For more information about the problem with baby oil, read this post.
**UPDATE** I also want to mention the name of my favorite coconut oil source. You can set up an online account and take advantage of this company’s frequent sales and promotions! I LOVE buying all my coconut oil products from Healthy Traditions because I have done my homework on them and I know that they source their coconut oil from the purest sources in the world. They also regularly test ALL their products for glyphosate residues and other chemical residues and reject products that don’t pass their rigorous testing. In addition to coconut oil, they have many other products that I use and love. Many of their products are made with their high-quality coconut oil. Browse their website and especially give their coconut oil a try!!
You also get a copy of the free book, Virgin Coconut Oil when you place your first order!
4. Exfoliate with Brush or Comb
After using the edible oil treatment, this is a great time to gently brush or comb the skin to remove the softened, scaly skin. Be careful not to apply too much pressure while brushing. I prefer to use a natural fiber baby hairbrush like this one. If there is still more scaly skin after brushing, apply more oil and repeat the brushing after a few hours. It may take a few sessions to remove all the scales from baby’s scalp or forehead.
After shampooing, apply a gentle moisturizer. Again, I prefer coconut oil, almond oil or another edible oil. I don’t recommend using anything on our skin that we wouldn’t put into our mouths! This is especially true for baby skin.
I love coconut oil and I have written other posts on the subject! For more tips on using coconut oil during pregnancy, check out my post here.
It may be helpful to run a humidifier inside your baby’s room. Adding moisture to the air is especially helpful for those who live in dryer climates, or for those who spend a lot of time indoors with a furnace or air conditioner running. Forced air furnaces or air conditioning can dry out the air and consequently, our skin.
7. Natural Baby Shampoo
Many mainstream baby soaps and shampoos are full of questionable ingredients that I would NEVER recommend for delicate baby skin. For example, here is the ingredient list from a very popular baby shampoo:
Water, Cocamidopropyl Betaine, PEG-80 Sorbitan Laurate, Sodium Trideceth Sulfate, PEG-150 Distearate, Phenoxyethanol, Sodium Chloride, Glycerin, Citric Acid, Sodium Benzoate, Tetrasodium EDTA, Polyquaternium-10, Ethylhexylglycerin, Sodium Hydroxide, Potassium Acrylates Copolymer, Yellow 6, Yellow 10, Parfum
Instead, try Dr. Bronner’s Pure Castile Liquid Soap! It’s even known to “cure” and prevent cradle cap all by itself! I love this stuff! It’s the only baby soap or shampoo you’ll ever need. Use it for homemade baby wipes, baby wash, shampoo, etc. You can even use castile soap for diy cleaning products!
8. Stop Over-Washing!
Many new parents make the mistake of bathing their babies too often. It’s really not necessary to bathe a baby more than once a week. More often than that, will dry out your baby’s skin and disrupt the delicate microbiome of the skin.
Frequent washing and shampooing strips the skin of natural oils and can actually encourage overproduction of the scalp’s sebum. A quick sponge bath is often the only washing needed to get rid of stinky sour milk smells under baby’s chin, arms and diaper area.
For more information and some easy bath tips for baby, check out this post.
9. Baking Soda
Another gentle miracle ingredient for cradle cap? Baking soda! Mix equal amounts of baking soda with warm water to form a paste. Apply the paste onto baby’s scalp and allow the mixture to sit for a few minutes before gently rubbing and washing off with warm water or castile soap.
10. Apple Cider Vinegar
Another one of my favorite natural healthcare products is apple cider vinegar! Apple cider vinegar (ACV) is known for its probiotic and anti-fungal properties which help balance out the scalp naturally.
Mix 2 tablespoons of raw organic ACV with 1/4 cup of filtered water. Pour the mixture over your baby’s scalp, making sure to avoid her eyes. Massage the scalp for a few minutes. Allow the vinegar mixture to remain on baby’s scalp for 10 minutes before washing off with warm water.
Make sure that your ACV is raw, organic and unfiltered. It also must say “with the Mother” on the label. Here is my favorite brand.
11. Aloe Vera
This study shows that Aloe Vera gel is also effective in treating symptoms of seborrheic dermatitis. Apply the gel by gently rubbing into the scalp, leaving on for at least 20 minutes and then washing off with castile soap.
When to Call the Doctor?
The Mayo Clinic website recommends calling your doctor if home treatment is unsuccessful, or if the patches spread to your baby’s face or body. If the cradle cap becomes significantly inflamed, itchy, cracked, or oozes fluid, it would also be a good idea to check with your doctor. The rash may be something more serious. However, in most cases, cradle cap is a cosmetic issue and nothing to be concerned about. If left untreated, it often goes away on its own.
Have you had any success treating cradle cap with natural remedies or products? I’d love to hear your stories. Please share in the comments!
*Disclaimer – The information in the post is for educational purposes only. It is not intended to be medical advice. Please make sure that you talk with your baby’s doctor if your baby develops a rash or skin condition. Always check with your health care practitioner before giving your baby supplements, medications or remedies.