What is cradle cap?
Cradle cap is the common term for what medically is termed seborrheic dermatitis. It is characterised by flaky, scaly patches on the scalp, and may also appear on the eyebrows, ears, and neck. In adults cradle cap is what we know as dandruff, but in babies, rather than powdery flakes it often looks like thick crusting.
While it may be alarming for parents to see, cradle cap is generally not painful or harmful to the baby. Cradle cap is not to be confused with atopic dermatitis which tends to be significantly itchy.
Cradle cap only appears in infants because it is thought to be caused by overactive oil glands. These oil glands, called sebaceous glands, produce a substance called sebum, which helps to keep the skin moisturized and healthy. In infants, the sebaceous glands may produce too much sebum, leading to the development of cradle cap.
For any concerned parents, note that it is not caused by poor hygiene or a deficiency in nutrition.
What causes cradle cap?
The causes of cradle cap as not really known. But it is not a sign you’re doing or have done something wrong (phew!) and can affect babies between 3 weeks and 1 year old typically but can continue long after this as we have found.
It’s not caused by poor hygiene so don’t be concerned that you’re not bathing or washing your baby enough, though if you're looking for ways to remove it, the right personal care routine and products could be the solution.
Some contributing factors out of your control as a parent include hormonal changes and genetics,. Cradle cap is more common for example, in infants who have a family history of eczema, psoriasis, or other skin conditions.
Cradle cap is also more likely to occur in infants who have a compromised immune system or who are exposed to irritants such as tobacco smoke.
How to spot cradle cap in infants.
Typical signs of cradle cap:
- Patchy scaling or thick crusts on the scalp
- Either dry skin or oily skin with flaky white or yellow scales
- Skin that is flaky
- Mild redness on occasion (but not always)
The difference between dry skin and cradle cap
Dry skin, also known as xerosis, is a common condition. It can be caused by a variety of environmental factors. Dry skin can appear flaky, rough, and itchy, and may be more prone to irritation and inflammation.
In contrast, cradle cap is characterised by scaly patches on the scalp and will look different from rough dry skin. Cradle cap will look more like a crust on the surface of the skin.
Read more here about identifying the difference between cradle cap and dry scalp here.
How to treat cradle cap at home
If you are looking to treat cradle cap naturally, there are several things you can try.
One option is to gently brush the scalp with a soft brush or comb to loosen the scales.
You could try washing your baby's hair with a gentle, pH-balanced shampoo and apply a small amount of coconut oil to the scalp and gently massage it in, making sure you let the oil sit on the scalp for at least an hour before washing it out.
These remedies could all help soften and loosen the scales, making them easier to remove with a gentle dry brushing. But do not pick at the scales to remove them.
How not to treat cradle cap
There are a few things you should avoid when treating cradle cap.
First, do not try to scrape or pick at the scales, as this can cause irritation and potentially lead to an infection.
Second, do not use hot water to wash your baby's hair, as this can dry out the scalp and worsen the condition.
Third, do not use over-the-counter medications or creams without consulting with a doctor first.
Start with some natural remedies like oiling your baby's scalp before bathtime before you start trying anything else as this may resolve the issue immediately.
Cradle cap is a temporary condition and will typically resolve on its own within a few months. However, if the condition persists or appears infected, it is important to consult with a healthcare professional for proper treatment.
In most cases, proper care and attention, including keeping the scalp clean and dry, can help to reduce the symptoms of cradle cap and keep your baby's skin healthy and hydrated. So, it is important to follow the right steps to treat cradle cap.