Cradle cap, sometimes known as crib cap, is a common skin condition in babies.
Though not contagious and mostly harmless, it can look like an alarming skin disease. If you've noticed odd looking patches on your baby's head or thick and flaky skin, chances are it's cradle cap.
So what exactly is cradle cap and how can you get rid of it?
Here's more about this skin issue, plus some natural home remedies for treating it.
What Is Cradle Cap?
Cradle cap is basically the infant version of seborrheic dermatitis.
In adults, this condition would cause dandruff. In babies, it appears as patches of white or yellow flaky skin.
Cradle cap typically appears on the head and behind the ears, but it can also show up on eyebrows, eyelids, armpits, and other areas.
The exact cause is unknown, but cradle cap is not caused by poor hygiene.
One possible cause could be hormones that are passed from mother to baby that cause the oil glands to overproduce. Another suggested factor is a yeast called malassezia. (1)
It appears most often in babies 3 months old or younger and typically will go away within a year. (2) Some cases will continue until 4 years of age.
Cradle Cap vs. Infantile Eczema
Cradle cap is often confused with infantile eczema, but there are a few key differences.
First, cradle cap is not typically itchy while eczema is.
Also, infantile eczema is usually dry, red, and sometimes painful. Cradle cap can be dry or oily, but it tends to show up as white, yellow, or brown patches and is not painful.
If you aren't sure, your doctor should be able to diagnose which skin condition your baby has.
How to Get Rid of Cradle Cap
It isn't considered medically necessary to get rid of cradle cap, but there are some things you can do to treat it.
Here are a few natural and home remedies to try.
Lightly Brush the Scalp
To help get rid of the flakes on your baby's head, you can gently brush the scalp once a day.
There are soft brushes made specifically for cradle cap, but a soft-bristled toothbrush can work as well.
Before brushing, gently massage your baby's head with your fingertips to loosen flakes. Then, slowly and gently brush the scalp, moving in the same direction with each brush stroke.
This should help to get rid of some of the flakes and help with scalp health in general.
If you notice that your baby's head becomes red or looks irritated, brush less often or try a softer brush.
Use Oil or Herbal Balm
Another way to help get rid of cradle cap is to moisturize and nourish the scalp with oil.
This can be done before brushing to help loosen the flakes or just on a regular basis for scalp health.
Choose a natural plant oil like coconut, olive, sweet almond, or jojoba.
Test on a small patch of scalp first to make sure there are no reactions. Then, place a small amount of oil in your hands and rub it gently into your baby's head.
Leave it to sit for about 15 minutes then wash out with a mild baby shampoo.
You can also try using an all-natural, herbal balm to soothe the patches of cradle cap and nourish skin.
This baby balm can be used for cradle cap and also for diaper rash, eczema, chapped skin, bug bites, and more.
Wash Less Frequently
Because cradle cap is not caused by poor hygiene, it will not go away with more frequent washing.
In fact, shampooing and washing your baby's scalp too often can dry out the scalp and make cradle cap worse.
Bathing children with skin conditions every two or three days is usually more beneficial and keeps the skin from getting worse. (3)
If done once every few days, shampooing can help to loosen and temporarily get rid of cradle cap flakes.
Just be sure to choose a gentle and natural baby shampoo and rub gently, especially on the affected patches of skin.
Rinse shampoo out thoroughly and apply a mild, natural moisturizer (or baby balm) while the skin is still damp.
Try Diluted Essential Oils
Essential oils are another option to try to get rid of cradle cap naturally.
Some essential oils can help to soothe the skin while others can be helpful if the cradle cap is caused by a yeast or fungus.
Any essential oil you use should be diluted with a carrier oil like sweet almond, coconut, or jojoba to a 1% dilution.
Lavender, chamomile, and cedarwood essential oils are all very calming for skin and are considered safe for babies when diluted to the 1% concentration.
Geranium and citrus oils like lemon or orange can also be used on your baby and may help with skin health and cradle cap.
Always do a test patch on your baby's scalp to make sure there isn't a negative reaction.
If you don't feel comfortable mixing and applying the essential oils yourself, look for a baby product that already contains one of these oils.
For example, this baby balm for sensitive skin contains lavender and orange essential oils.
In most cases, cradle cap is harmless and will clear up on its own within a year.
However, be sure to take your baby to the doctor if the skin patches turn red or the skin looks swollen, irritated, or infected.
If you suspect your baby has infantile eczema instead of cradle cap, be sure to take your child to the doctor to find out for sure. Treatment for eczema is different than cradle cap.
Finally, be sure to keep your baby's delicate skin in mind when trying home remedies.
Over washing or over brushing the scalp can irritate the skin and make cradle cap worse.
Go slowly and gently and be sure to test for allergic reactions before using essential oils and other skin products.
Try These Simple Remedies for Cradle Cap
Despite the fact that it may not be medically necessary to get rid of cradle cap, you can still use these simple home remedies to treat it yourself and help your baby's skin heal.
Simple routines like brushing, applying oils, shampooing, and moisturizing can make a big difference.