‘Cradle cap’ is what we call a type of dermatitis that results in flakes or ‘scales’ on your baby’s scalp. Flaking is a result of oil gland inflammation and the overproduction of a slightly greasy substance called sebum. Sebum serves to ‘waterproof’ our scalps and keeps skin moisturized. Too much sebum can cause pimples and acne throughout puberty and adulthood.
Excess sebum in babies can cause old skin to stick to the scalp, rather than falling off. Babies are thought to produce sebum because of lingering hormones from mum – production will usually cease around three months of age. If you are struggling with cradle cap, the good news is it likely won’t last too long.
Signs of cradle cap include:
● Greasy, yellow, or brown ‘scales’ on your baby’s scalp, sometimes down behind the ears
● Flaky, red scalp
● Hair loss (flakes falling from the scalp with hair attached)
A cradle cap is not a sign of poor cleanliness or lack of care.
If you’re seeing scales on other parts of your little one’s body, this is considered a type of dermatitis slightly different to cradle cap, and you should consult your doctor. Also consult your doctor about cradle cap at the first sign of infection, pus, or strong irritation. Avoid scratching or picking at the flakes as this can lead to infection.
How to treat cradle cap
Most of the time, the cradle cap will clear up on its own. If it persists past three months of age, chat to your GP or pharmacist. Cradle cap is not dangerous and is very rarely serious, so don’t panic.
In the meantime, there are steps you can take to keep the baby feeling more comfortable:
● Soften the skin flakes by very gently massaging baby oil onto the scalp.
● After a few hours or the next morning, use a clean and soft brush or a clean cloth to remove flakes. Keep brushstrokes very soft; never force off a scale as it could cause bleeding or lead to infection.
● Wash baby’s scalp. Use warm water and baby shampoo. Avoid getting any product in the eye area. Use products as infrequently as possible; your baby’s skin is very sensitive, and easily dried out. Dry skin can also kick sebum into over-production.
Cradle cap may reoccur once you’ve treated in this way. That’s okay – sebum is probably still in production and you may need to repeat the softening and removing process. Remember that if there is no sign of infection, your baby likely won’t be in pain because of the cradle cap.