Cradle cap is essentially baby dandruff, but that doesn’t make it any less alarming. The flaky skin that can sometimes appear on an infant’s head and face can make parents panicky, particularly if they are seeing it for the first time. That might drive some mothers and fathers to search for ways to prevent cradle cap or seek out a cradle cap cure. But the solution to treating the infant skin condition is far simpler than many parents might expect.
“Cradle cap is usually caused by maternal hormones still circulating in the baby,” explains Dr. Adnan Mir, Committee Chair of the Society for Pediatric Dermatology. “So, as long as those hormones are still there, there’s not much you can do to make it better and not much you can do to make it worse.”
Cradle cap is known by the medical name seborrheic dermatitis and presents itself as oily and sometimes crusty patches on an infant’s scalp. These patches can become thick, scaly, and difficult to remove. It can last for a few days to a few months. In a word, it is gross. But even though the condition looks uncomfortable, parents should rest assured that the only discomfort is in worrying about it.
“It’s frustrating, and sometimes it can last longer than everyone expects, but it does always go away,” Mir explains. And until it does go away, he notes, the infant is not itchy or in pain. In many respects, it’s purely cosmetic. But, still, a new baby with a scaly scalp is easily pitied.
And while parents may be moved to action, Mir cautions that parents treat the condition as gently as possible. “The one thing that does make it worse is treating it roughly or picking at it,” he says. “When something is not bothersome to an infant and we know it’s going to go away, then we usually take a hands-off approach to it.”
That means parents should use caution when looking to “cures” for cradle cap, whether they are medical interventions or folk remedies. Application of the supposed cure-all apple cider vinegar, for instance, may irritate the skin. And while slathering on coconut oil may not hurt things, it’s probably not going to help that much, either.
When it comes to pharmaceuticals, Mir points out that anything a doctor might give a baby can have side effects. If the condition will go away on its own, there may be no need to expose the infant to undue risks.
“If it’s really bad, we might recommend a parent coat their infant’s scalp with light vegetable oil or white petroleum jelly overnight,” Mir says. “The next morning they can brush the scalp with a soft gentle brush and it will come off after that.”
The best way for parents to deal with cradle cap, however, might be simply to take a deep breath and try to relax. That said, should cradle cap persist much beyond three months, parents should be in touch with a pediatrician. That’s because in rare instances cradle cap can mimic less benign medical conditions. Otherwise, the best action is none at all.