Cradle cap isn’t cute, but it’s harmless.
Most often it shows up in the first few months of life, and it usually clears up on its own in about six to 12 months — although some babies have it for several years.
You might notice the same condition around your baby’s ears or eyebrows, or even in his armpits and other creases. When it’s not on his scalp, it’s called seborrheic dermatitis.
What causes cradle cap?
We don’t know. Some experts believe that the hormones a baby receives from his mother at the end of pregnancy overstimulate the baby’s seborrheic (oil-producing) glands, resulting in cradle cap. But there’s no consensus on the cause.
What we do know is that cradle cap isn’t caused by poor hygiene or allergies. It’s not contagious, and it probably doesn’t bother your baby at all, although if it gets severe it might itch.
How should I treat my baby’s flaky scalp?
You don’t really need to do anything, but if it bothers you, try shampooing more frequently and gently brushing your baby’s scalp with a soft brush or a terrycloth towel.
For stubborn cases, some parents find an oil remedy helpful. (The oil helps to loosen dry flakes.) If you want to give it a try, rub just a small amount of a pure, natural oil — such as almond or olive oil — on your baby’s scalp and leave it on for about 15 minutes. Then gently comb out the flakes with a fine-toothed comb or brush them out with a soft brush.
Be sure to follow up by washing your baby’s scalp with a gentle baby shampoo — the last thing you want to do is leave oil on his head, which could clog the pores and cause the flakes to stick. You might try leaving the shampoo on for a few minutes before rinsing, to help cut the oil.
Talk with your baby’s doctor if the cradle cap is severe or it spreads beyond your baby’s scalp. She may suggest an over-the-counter or prescription seborrhea shampoo or, if the scalp is inflamed, a cortisone cream.
Can I stop it from coming back?
Once your baby’s cradle cap is completely gone, it’s unlikely to return, but to help remove dead skin while it’s waning, you might want to give your baby more frequent shampoos. Don’t overdo it, though, or you could further stimulate his oil-producing glands. A gentle wash two or three times a week with a mild shampoo should be plenty.