We treat infants as the most precious thing on earth, and as much as possible, protect them from even the slightest harm. This is why seeing a baby’s scalp develop crusty, oily, or scaly patches can be really scary and disconcerting to a parent. This condition is known among non-medical folk as the cradle cap, while it’s called seborrheic dermatitis by those in the medical field. Although it can be alarming, it’s actually not all that serious and it can, in fact, be prevented. We have gathered all the important information you may want to know about the skin condition, so read on to find out how to prevent cradle cap and how to effectively treat it.
What is cradle cap?
Seborrheic dermatitis is a common skin condition, but it doesn’t only occur among adults, as infants can also develop it during the first 3 months of their life. It’s commonly known as “cradle cap” because it is usually found on the scalp of a newborn.
At times, cradle cap can be mistaken for infantile eczema because of the similarities in the symptoms of the two. However, infantile eczema causes itching while infantile seborrheic dermatitis does not.
What are the symptoms of cradle cap?
If you see the following on your baby’s scalp or any part of their skin (like the eyelids, ears, nose or groin), they may have cradle cap:
- Flakiness on the skin
- Thick crusts and scaly patches
- Oily or dry skin with white or yellow flaky scales
- Mild redness
What causes cradle cap?
The cause of cradle cap is still unidentified. According to recent studies, allergies, bacterial infection, and poor hygiene have been ruled out as causes of the skin condition. However, medical experts are looking into the possibility of hormones from the mother and fungus as contributing factors. It’s no secret among acne sufferers that hormones can cause excessive production of oil on the skin, and this oil can contribute to skin conditions that are not limited to acne. On the other hand, a fungus called malassezia can also be a cause. This grows with sebum, so it can also be related to the first theory. Although not yet proven, the fact that antifungal treatments, such as ketoconazole, are effective in treating cradle cap supports this theory.
How to prevent cradle cap
Like we mentioned earlier in this article, cradle cap is not particularly harmful and it doesn’t bother your baby. It usually goes away on its own in a few weeks to a couple of months, but if you want to take extra steps to avoid it happening to your baby, here are some helpful tips:
- Use baby shampoo—Baby shampoo is formulated for an infant’s sensitive scalp, so it’s milder and better at cleansing your baby’s skin. It’s always the best option for your baby unless their pediatrician prescribes something else
- Wash your baby’s hair regularly—While cradle cap isn’t exactly caused by poor hygiene, it will still be helpful to wash your baby’s hair every two or three days and keep it clean to help avoid the skin condition
- Keep the baby’s head dry—Because of the theory that excessive oil production and fungus can cause cradle cap, keeping your baby’s head from excessive sweating and greasiness helps to prevent it. Avoid letting your baby wear warm hats and immediately wipe off sweat when it’s produced. Also, completely dry your baby’s head and body with a soft, clean towel after bath
- Massage your baby’s head gently every day—Use your fingers to gently massage your baby’s head every day, or use a baby brush with very soft bristles. This will help increase blood circulation and decrease the chances for development of seborrheic dermatitis.
Make sure that the baby’s scalp is completely clean after bath. Gently run your hand over your baby’s head to make sure that there isn’t any soap residue on the scalp. Leftover soap can cause dryness and may contribute to cradle cap and other skin conditions.
How to treat cradle cap
While cradle cap usually clears up on its own, it may bother you as a worried parent. If your baby develops cradle cap, here are a few tips on how to treat it.
- Wash your baby’s hair once a day with mild baby shampoo
- Use a soft-bristled brush to lightly scrub your baby’s scalp and loosen the skin flakes. You can also use your fingers to do so
- Consult your doctor if you want to be prescribed with antifungal medication such as ketoconazole, which is mostly effective in combating seborrheic dermatitis
- Use hydrocortisone cream to reduce redness and inflammation, if there’s any. This can also help if you want to hide the dermatitis in case of events and picture taking
- Remember: Do not buy over-the-counter topical medication without consulting your doctor first. These are not formulated for an infant’s sensitive and delicate skin and may cause irritation or make the condition worse. Using an adult dandruff shampoo for their antifungal ingredients is also not recommended
- If you don’t see any sign of improvement within a couple of days of medication, consult your doctor.
Cradle cap is not something to fear
Now that you know how to prevent cradle cap in simple ways, your baby now has a decreased chance of developing this skin condition. However, if your baby somehow still develops seborrheic dermatitis, remember that it is neither harmful or bothersome to your child, and it should go away in a short time, with or without treatment. As always, it’s best to consult your doctor or dermatologist at the first sign of inflammation.