If you want to know how to get rid of cradle cap, the first step in the process is to fully understand what cradle cap is and what causes this condition. Most parents will first notice signs of cradle cap when they see white or yellow flakes in their baby’s hair or redness on the scalp.
And don’t worry – this is a common condition found in children.
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What Causes Cradle Cap?
While common, doctors have yet to determine the root cause of this condition. Many believe that cradle cap is caused by or linked to overactive sebaceous glands. These glands are found in the skin and produce sebum. Sebum is an oil substance.
Some studies point to the baby containing the mother’s hormones following birth. These hormones will remain in the baby’s body for weeks or months at a time, and it is thought that the increased hormones are what cause the baby’s body to produce too much sebum.
Another factor that is currently being studied that may cause cradle cap is yeast. Called malassezia, the yeast, or fungus, will grow in the sebum with bacteria. While studies have been inconclusive, many treatments do include antifungal creams that do work to alleviate cradle cap, so it is likely that cradle cap is fungal in nature, in some cases. Yeast is, at the very least, a contributing factor that may cause babies to have cradle cap.
The good news is that cradle cap is not an indicator of poor health or hygiene. And cradle cap is not contagious and is not caused by an allergic reaction. The only possible long-term side effect of cradle cap is that the baby may have a higher risk of developing dandruff as they get older.
Where Can Cradle Cap be Seen?
When a baby has cradle cap, it doesn’t need to be present on only the head. You may see signs of cradle cap on the baby’s:
- Skin folds (armpits, back of the knees, etc.)
But the head is the area where cradle cap is most commonly present.
4 Symptoms of Cradle Cap
Cradle cap has four main symptoms that will be experienced, and these symptoms include:
- Dry or oily skin with white or yellow scales.
- Skin flakes that are white or yellow.
- Mild redness.
- Scaling or thick crust on the scalp.
While the scales or flakes of skin may look itchy, they are not usually itchy. Many parents confuse cradle cap, or infantile seborrheic dermatitis, for a condition that is very similar: infantile eczema. The main different between these two conditions is that eczema will cause intense itching.
If you notice small skin flakes in your baby’s bed or you witness the thick crust on the scalp of the head, it’s highly likely that your baby has cradle cap. In most cases, you will not need to see a doctor to get the condition examined.
But you will want to consult with a medical professional if:
- The condition spreads to the face or body.
- At-home remedies have not been successful.
How to Get Rid of Cradle Cap: 4 Treatments for Success
When a baby has cradle cap, it’s important to understand that this condition is not a dire emergency. Rather, it is a condition that is mild and not much of a concern. If you want to seek treatment, the following four methods are recommended:
1. Wash with Mild Shampoo and Brush
Cradle cap normally goes away all on its own. Medical intervention is not needed in the majority of cases, and you’ll let the condition take its course before it clears up on its own. With that said, you’ll also want to:
- Wash your baby’s hair once a day using a baby-formulated shampoo that is mild.
- Brush your baby’s hair or scalp lightly to loosen the scales on the head.
This is the first treatment that doctors recommend, and you should follow course for several weeks to try and determine if the shampooing is helping.
2. Medicated Shampoo
If your mild baby shampoo isn’t helping the condition, you’ll want to consult with your baby’s doctor. A doctor will be able to prescribe you a medicated shampoo or a hydrocortisone cream that will likely do the trick. Doctors will normally prescribe an adult dandruff shampoo that has a low percentage of antifungal medication.
It’s essential that you avoid getting this shampoo in your baby’s eyes as it can lead to burning and irritation. Adult shampoos should not be purchased over-the-counter without a doctor’s recommendation.
Many mothers make the mistake of buying over-the-counter antifungal creams or cortisone creams, which is a big no-no. Creams and products sold in stores are often formulated for adults. And since you’re much bigger than a baby, your body is able to withstand the potential toxicity of these medications. But these toxic ingredients can be absorbed into the baby’s skin and cause further issues.
Adults have thicker, more resilient skin than a baby, and many of the ingredients that absorb into a baby’s skin will not absorb into an adult’s skin.
3. Use Oil and Jelly
At-home remedies are the most sought for cradle cap, and these remedies can often help alleviate the condition entirely. One method that has been used with great success is to use oil and jelly.
The baby oil or petroleum jelly will be rubbed into the dry patches of skin. Don’t be afraid to massage the scalp gently to loosen many of the scales that are present.
Now, you’ll want to wait 15 minutes for the oil and jelly to loosen the scales. Once the time has passed, you’ll want to try and gently loosen any scales with your fingers, followed by a thorough cleaning as seen with the first method on our list. Jelly and oil are normally able to moisten the scales and allow them to be rubbed off for instant relief.
Note: Oil and vegetable oil have also been used to remove scales with success.
It’s essential that you thoroughly wash your baby’s head following this treatment to get rid of any leftover oils or jelly. If you allow oil or jelly to remain in the hair, it can cause more scales to form,making the condition worse.
4. Humidify the Air
Dry skin conditions are normally caused or worsened due to humidity. If you live in a humid area or your home is unusually dry, for example during the winter months when you have your heating system running, it’s time to buy a warm-mist vaporizer.
Warm-mist vaporizers can be placed right in your baby’s nursey and will work to moisturize the skin, loosening the scales in the process. And since you’re using a warm-mist model, it will keep the room warm and won’t make the room cold like other humidifiers.
While this is more of a preventative practice, it should be followed throughout childhood. It’s common for teens and adults to suffer from dry skin, dandruff and similar conditions if they had cradle cap as a child.
Note: While all of the treatments above aim to loosen the scales and relieve the condition, it’s important to remember that you never want to forcefully pull scales off of the scalp. If the scales do not come off easily, being forceful can lead to bleeding, wounds and potential infection.