Welcoming a baby into the world is both a wonderful and confusing time. Along with all the joy and love parenthood brings, there are many concerns you’ll face once your little one makes his appearance. Your newborn can develop a number of deficiencies and conditions—from eczema to jaundice—and you may not know what they are or how to deal with them. One of those “What’s this here?” conditions is cradle cap.
But before you start to panic and rush your baby off to the emergency room, let the experts at Mustela put your mind at ease about this all-too-common skin condition. Along the way, we’ll answer questions such as:
- What is cradle cap?
- Should you be worried about cradle cap?
- How common is cradle cap?
- What does cradle cap look like?
- What causes cradle cap?
- Are there any tests for cradle cap?
After we answer the most common cradle cap questions, we’ll show you six ways to prevent and treat this common skin condition.
What Is Cradle Cap?
Cradle cap is the common name for seborrheic dermatitis. We know those probably aren’t terms you come across every day, so allow us to elaborate. Here are the definitions you need to know:
- Seborrhea (seborrheic is the adjective form) — Overactivity of the sebaceous glands characterized by excessive secretion of sebum resulting in an oily coating, crusts, or scales on the skin.
- Sebaceous glands — Small glands in the skin that secrete a lubricating oily matter (sebum) into the hair follicles to lubricate the skin and hair.
- Dermatitis — A condition of the skin in which it becomes red, swollen, and sore. Usually resulting from direct irritation by an external agent or an allergic reaction.
Putting all that scientific jargon to work, it tells us that cradle cap is red (or yellow), irritated, oily skin that may form discolored, scaly, crusty patches. Still not 100% clear? In the simplest sense, it’s basically infant dandruff. However, dandruff shampoo isn’t the solution to the problem.
Strangely enough, cradle cap doesn’t just appear on the head. This is the predominant location, yes, but it can also flare up on your baby’s forehead, eyebrows, ears, diaper area, and other parts of his body.
Should You Be Worried About Cradle Cap?
The simple answer is NO. It’s completely harmless, not contagious, and usually disappears by your baby’s first birthday. One misconception about cradle cap is that it’s an indication of poor hygiene. This is false.
As you’ll see in the next few sections, cradle cap is the result of your baby’s body adjusting to its new environment. It’s also important to remember that this skin condition is very common. Doctors estimate that about half of all babies will exhibit some form of cradle cap during their first year of life.
That doesn’t mean you should just disregard cradle cap completely. Your baby’s body will usually work through the problem and stabilize itself on its own. In some rare instances, though, the scaly, irritated patches can get infected. This is most often due to excessive scratching from fingernails, clothing, or bedding. Again, infections are rare, but keep an eye on your baby’s cradle cap nonetheless.
What Does Cradle Cap Look Like?
Cradle cap can vary in intensity depending on your baby’s body. At the low end of the scale, it may manifest as slight redness and flaky skin (see below).
At the other end of the scale, the skin condition can result in extreme redness and a literal cap on the top of the head.
Symptoms are similar when they appear on other parts of the body.
What Causes Cradle Cap?
Even in the 21st century, doctors aren’t sure what causes cradle cap. One popular theory holds that the baby’s sebaceous glands (the ones that produce skin oil) aren’t working at full strength yet because of mommy’s hormones (from gestation and nursing).
But don’t feel bad. As we said, cradle cap is extremely common, and it’s not your fault. Your baby’s glands’ overactivity, which happens as a result of your hormones, leads to an excess of oil. When that oil is present, dead skin cells that should be shed off naturally get caught in the oil and, as a result, form clumps.
That’s just a theory, though. As logical as it sounds, don’t let it change your nursing habits. Your baby’s body will get used to the new environment (hormones included) during the first twelve months of his life.
Are There Any Tests For Cradle Cap?
Unfortunately, no. But if you visit a doctor, she will be able to diagnose cradle cap just by looking at your baby’s skin. And that can be relieving during the high-stress days of early parenthood.
What Are The Best Ways To Prevent & Treat Cradle Cap?
1) Shampoo 2 Or 3 Times A Week
To help reduce the chances of your baby developing cradle cap, wash your baby’s hair and scalp with a gentle shampoo two or three times a week. We recommend Mustela’s Foam Shampoo because it’s formulated to gently cleanse and to rinse away the flakes associated with cradle cap.
2) Take A Vitamin B Supplement If You’re Nursing
The B vitamin biotin is important for healthy skin. Normally, you get plenty of biotin from your diet. But sometimes, pregnant and nursing moms can develop a deficiency of this important nutrient. Because of the role this vitamin plays in skin maintenance, some believe taking a biotin supplement can help treat cradle cap when the mother has a deficiency.
Before you run out and buy all the biotin on the shelf, keep in mind there’s no hard evidence that this works. At the very least, discuss with your doctor the possibility of taking the supplement before you add it to your daily routine.
3) Brush Your Baby’s Scalp With A Soft Brush
For an added bit of prevention and treatment, we suggest brushing your baby’s scalp with a soft brush while he’s in the bath. Any baby hair brush will do a great job at gently removing the scaly skin. Just massage your baby’s scalp with the brush, but be sure not to pick at the scales (this can cause irritation).
If you can’t get ahold of a soft hairbrush, or if your baby doesn’t like it, you can massage his scalp with a terrycloth towel while drying him off.
4) Apply Baby Oil Before Brushing
If brushing your baby’s scalp with a soft brush doesn’t seem to be working, try adding a drop or two of baby oil before you start brushing. Then, while you brush, you’ll also be working the baby oil into your child’s scalp for a boost of healing and prevention. Remember to be gentle so you don’t further damage your baby’s sensitive skin.
5) Be Patient
Remember that cradle cap is the manifestation of an imbalance inside your baby’s body. You can treat the symptoms (the flaky skin), but it may take a while for the condition to completely disappear. Be patient, and continue using products designed to prevent and treat cradle cap, like Mustela’s Foam Shampoo, to defend against future outbreaks.
6) Consult A Physician
If your baby’s cradle cap doesn’t seem to be getting any better or if it looks infected, visit your doctor or pediatrician. If it’s an extremely bad case of cradle cap, she may prescribe a topical steroid, like hydrocortisone, to help decrease the symptoms.
However, don’t let cradle cap keep you up at night. By following a few simple steps, such as shampooing a few times per week and brushing your baby’s scalp with a soft brush, your baby’s cradle cap will soon disappear.