Did you notice some flaky, dandruff-like flakes on your baby’s head? It’s likely cradle cap, a common condition that can usually be treated naturally.
While your sweet little one is snuggled up on your chest sleeping, don’t be alarmed if you look down and notice yellow, flaky or crusty patches on their scalp. This condition is commonly known as cradle cap or seborrheic dermatitis.
You’re probably wondering: how do I get rid of cradle cap on my baby? Is cradle cap uncomfortable for my baby? What natural treatments will remove cradle cap?
The good news is that cradle cap doesn’t seem to cause babies any discomfort and for the most part is just a cosmetic condition. It’s also very common. According to this review, 10% of infants under one month have cradle cap, and 70% of all infants will show signs of cradle cap to some degree by the time they are three months old.
So if you’re noticing crusty, flaky patches on your baby’s scalp, I want you to know that you’re not alone and there’s no serious cause for concern. There are even some awesome and effective natural treatments to help get rid of your baby’s cradle cap once and for all — if you’d like to.
What is Cradle Cap?
Cradle cap is a skin condition that most commonly affects the scalp of babies between 12 weeks and 12 months of age. As I mentioned above, it usually peaks when infants are three months old, and reports estimate that it affects up to 70% of three-month-old infants. However, it can persist well beyond your baby’s first birthday.
Cradle cap most commonly appears in the form of flaky or crusty yellow patches on the scalp, but it can also be found in the eyebrows, behind the ears, in the diaper area, in the armpits, or anywhere the body has concentrated oil glands. Cradle cap sometimes involves patchy redness, and when found in skin folds such as the armpits or diaper area, you may notice moist redness.
While cradle cap can look alarming, especially to a brand new parent, it is not an infection, is not itchy, and it doesn’t bother your baby. In fact, cradle cap generally clears up on its own by your baby’s first birthday, and there is no reason to treat it unless you want to. Furthermore, the presence of cradle cap is not a reflection of the care you are providing your baby.
What Causes Cradle Cap?
This is where things get a bit more complicated. Doctors aren’t entirely sure what causes cradle cap, but there are a few leading theories:
1 | Hormones could be causing an overproduction of sebum
Hormones that are passed from mama to baby during the prenatal period that cause an overproduction of oil (aka sebum) in baby’s sebaceous glands are likely to blame.
In this case, your baby’s glands are simply producing sebum at a faster rate than their old skin cells. The extra sebum causes those old skin cells to instead stick to the scalp and form the crust we call cradle cap. These maternal hormones are thought to leave baby’s body between 6-12 months which is why the condition often clears itself up in that time frame.
2 | The Yeast Malassezia could be causing your baby’s cradle cap
According to this study, there is a relationship between cradle cap and the yeast Malassezia. Basically, this yeast feeds on the sebum naturally produced by your baby’s body. It consumes the saturated fatty acids and leaves the unsaturated fatty acids behind.
That said, this study explains that while it is very likely yeast plays a role in the presence of cradle cap due to the response cradle cap has to anti-fungal treatments, it is unlikely the only culprit. This is because Malassezia has also been found on the scalps of roughly 50% of all infants and children without the condition. This shows that there is an aspect of ‘individual susceptibility’.
3 | A gut imbalance or mineral deficiency could be at play
An imbalance in your baby’s gut flora could be to blame when it comes to cradle cap. This is often associated with an overproduction of yeast and fungus in the body.
Studies show that this might be especially true in babies whose mothers were given antibiotics during birth for GBS or other reasons. Babies born via C-section who were not exposed to the beneficial bacteria in the vaginal canal might also have compromised gut flora. (If you are breastfeeding, be sure that you are taking high-quality probiotics designed for nursing moms.)
What Doesn’t Cause Cradle Cap
While we don’t know for sure what causes cradle cap, it is likely a combination of the scenarios above. What do we know for sure? Cradle cap is not a reflection of poor hygiene nor is it a bacterial infection. Cradle cap is not itchy or uncomfortable for your baby.
It’s also important to know that cradle cap is not contagious and it doesn’t “spread” throughout the body. If you are seeing dry patches of skin in other places on your baby’s body, you may want to look into a good baby eczema cream instead.
Six Natural Treatments To Get Rid of Cradle Cap For Good
We’ve established that this condition isn’t anything to worry about and usually clears up on its own. But many parents like to help speed the process along with natural treatments for cradle cap.
However, it’s always a good idea to bring up your baby’s cradle cap with their pediatrician. Your pediatrician can confirm that it’s not a more serious skin condition and that the cradle cap hasn’t become infected. While this is not typical, when seborrheic dermatitis is present in the diaper area or armpits in can progress into a yeast or bacterial infection that requires treatment.
What is the best way to get rid of cradle cap? Here are six natural treatments and approaches that you can try.
1. If you’re breastfeeding, try making changes to your diet (and your baby’s)
Because yeast and possible gut imbalances in baby likely play a role in the presence of cradle cap, doctors explain that breastfeeding mamas may see some improvement to their baby’s condition by altering their diets.
Eliminating sugars that yeast feeds on and inflammatory foods may help improve your baby’s cradle cap. Additionally, there are foods and supplements you can add to help boost the quality of your breastmilk.
Foods to eliminate from your diet:
- Refined carbohydrates
- Wheat (or gluten in general)
Foods to add to your diet:
- Foods that contain healthy fats like avocados and COOC-certified olive oil
- Fermented foods like organic sauerkraut or water kefir for a dietary source of probiotics
Supplements you may want to add to your diet:
If your baby is already eating solid foods, you can try modifying their diet temporarily as well, to see if there are any improvements. However, before you change your baby’s diet, it’s smart to consult your nutritionist or pediatrician.
If you go this route, expect that it will take time to see an improvement in your baby’s cradle cap. For example, if dairy is causing your gut issues, or your baby’s, you may notice an immediate improvement but it will eventually take a few weeks to completely clear from your system.
2. Use squalane oil topically
Megan Garcia recommends a three-step method for treating cradle cap using squalane oil, which I have found very useful. She points to this research from 2012, which discusses that most advice for treating cradle cap at home recommends the use of olive or vegetable oil. This can be counteractive because the yeast Malassezia that is often associated with cradle cap feeds on saturated fatty acids, like those found in organic oils.
In fact, this report mentions that olive oil is commonly used to grow Malassezia in a lab setting, which makes it completely counterproductive to use olive oil on the scalp like many will suggest. For this reason, organic oils, especially olive oil, should be avoided in the treatment of cradle cap.
So this is where squalane oil comes in, which is a hydrocarbon that does not contain fatty acids and therefore doesn’t feed the yeast, is an oily emollient that is very effective in treating cradle cap. It works just like an oil treatment, but without feeding the yeast.
How to get rid of cradle cap using squalane oil:
- Massage squalane oil onto the scalp and leave it on for 10-30 minutes.
- Loosen the scaly and crusty patches with a soft bristle brush or cradle cap brush. Do not pick at them with your finger.
- Shampoo with a gentle baby wash.
- Repeat in 2-3 days if needed.
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3. Treat cradle cap with an apple cider vinegar solution
Apple cider vinegar is a common home remedy for cradle cap. It’s known to have antifungal properties (to fight off the yeast) and is probiotic. The idea is that an apple cider vinegar rinse will work to fight any imbalance in the scalp, naturally.
- Dilute 1 tablespoon of raw apple cider vinegar in 1/4 cup filtered water.
- Pour the solution over the baby’s scalp and massage or apply it with an organic cotton ball or wash cloth.
- Allow it to sit for 10 minutes then rinse with warm water.
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4. Try baby probiotics
Earlier we discussed the relationship between gut health and cradle cap and cradle cap in babies. Without healthy gut flora, your baby’s body may be overproducing yeast which is detoxing through their scalp and leading to cradle cap.
For this reason, baby probiotics can be helpful in warding off cradle cap, especially in conjunction with some of these other methods. In fact, probiotics are known to help your baby in a variety of ways including boosting the immune system, improving digestion, and clearing up skin problems.
Note: when it comes to introducing probiotics to a baby or young child, always start slowly. Never start with the full dose and gradually work your way up over time. While probiotics are generally considered safe, you can consult with your pediatrician if you aren’t sure whether you should give them to your baby.
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5. Use a cradle cap shampoo
If some of the other treatments on this list aren’t working out, you may want to try a cradle cap shampoo.
When you do shampoo baby’s scalp, Mustela Stelatopia Shampoo is an excellent choice for babies with cradle cap. Mustela is specially formulated for babies with very dry, eczema-prone skin, and to rinse away flakes associated with cradle cap. I wouldn’t use this as my baby’s daily shampoo but I would buy this as a one-off for clearing cradle cap.
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6. Use the right tools to help loosen cradle cap
Another key aspect of addressing cradle cap is using the right comb, brush, or tool specifically designed for flaky patches. When you are getting rid of cradle cap, it is important to resist the urge to pick at the areas on your baby’s scalp. Picking at the affected areas can leave raw and sore patches that are more prone to infection.
Gently combing or brushing out loosened flakes after an oil treatment can be quite effective. Use a basic soft baby brush, like this one that is made from natural goat hair.
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Many mamas also like the Fridababy DermaFrida Bath Mit. This is a glove made of silicone with very small soft bristles. It is excellent for little ones with dry skin and eczema, and also does a great job of removing cradle cap flakes when used gently on the scalp.
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Fridababy also makes a 3-step cradle cap system known as the DermaFrida Flake Fixer. This is a sponge, brush and comb set specially designed to use in the treatment of cradle cap. You use the sponge to massage oil or shampoo into baby’s scalp, loosen the flakes with the bristle brush, and finally use the fine-tooth comb to lift out flakes. The overwhelmingly positive reviews on Amazon speak for themselves!
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Bye, Bye Cradle Cap!
Now that you understand what cradle cap is and what causes it, you can approach treatment from a more informed approach. The six natural remedies in this article should have your baby’s cradle cap cleared up in no time! Remember, cradle cap is not uncomfortable or harmful to your baby, so it’s also okay to let it resolve on its own.
Hopefully you’ve found your cradle cap remedy of choice. If you still have questions, read on for these frequently asked questions about cradle cap.
What is the best way to get rid of cradle cap?
The best method depends on you and your baby. Try experimenting with one of the six natural cradle cap treatments listed in this article. Between these six options, you should be able to find what works for your baby.
Can you pick your baby’s cradle cap with your finger?
Picking at your baby’s scalp isn’t recommended because it can actually cause further irritation. After using an oil or ACV treatment, use one of the cradle cap brushes we recommended above to gently remove cradle cap scales without irritating your baby’s scalp.
Can you just leave cradle cap untreated?
Yes! You do not have to use any cradle cap treatments or brushes unless you want to. Cradle cap is not an infection, does not itch, and doesn’t bother your baby. In most cases, it will eventually go away on its own.
How often should you bathe a baby with cradle cap?
If your baby has cradle cap, it’s important not to shampoo their hair too often because this can further disrupt and dry out the scalp environment, exacerbating the cradle cap further. Doctors recommend washing your baby’s hair no more than 2-3 times per week. And in fact, many of my readers use baby wash even less frequently than that.
Is coconut oil good for cradle cap?
Coconut oil for cradle cap receives mixed reviews. We find squalane oil to be more effective than coconut oil, but some parents find coconut oil to be effective, too. If you want to try organic coconut oil as a treatment for cradle cap, rub some onto the scaly patches on your baby’s scalp and let it soak for about 15-20 minutes. After that, use a cradle cap brush to loosen the patches and shampoo your baby’s hair, much like you would with the squalane oil treatment.
Can an older baby or toddler get cradle cap?
Yes. While cradle cap is most common in babies around three months of age or younger, many older babies and even toddlers also have it. In most cases, it will eventually go away on its own.
Founder and CEO | The Gentle Nursery. Yasmine is a wife and mom of 2 boys, and the CEO of Biomeology, a company on a mission to end postpartum depression. She is a graduate of the University of Southern California, a doula in training, and a Functional Nutrition Coach. With a background in research, analytics, and leadership for a Fortune 100 company, Yasmine applies the same attention to detail to every article she writes and researches.