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How To Deal With Cradle Cap In Babies

Cradle cap is a generic term for a medical condition known as seborrheic dermatitis in infants. It is usually a greasy and scaly rash somewhat yellowish in colour that appears on the scalp of infants who are 1 to 3 months old [1] . These may appear in patches as well, on other areas such as the face or the diaper area. This condition is not at all contagious and quite common, causing no itchiness or harm to the baby.

How To Deal With Cradle Cap In Babies

Symptoms Of Cradle Cap In Babies

The symptoms include [5] the following :

  • Crusty yellow patches on baby's scalp and areas around the forehead and eyes.
  • Dandruff-like flakes on the scalp and eyebrows
  • Scaly patches on the scalp which may spread on to the diaper area or underarms.

Though the patches may seem red, they are usually not itchy. It is important not to pick on them or else they may lead to an infection.

How To Deal With Cradle Cap In Babies

Causes Of Cradle Cap In Babies

In newborns, cradle cap can be caused by a number of reasons.

  • Overactive sebaceous glands [1] : The baby's skin may still not be able to gauge the amount of sebum to be produced and hence may go overboard. The excess sebum gets trapped in the uppermost layer of the skin, creating scaly patches.
  • Yeast infection: A type of yeast called Malassezia [2] , found on human skin, is also known to contribute to cradle cap in babies.
  • Eczema or asthma: There are a lot of studies that suggest that newborns with cradle cap are usually born to parents with a history of eczema [3] or asthma.

Contrary to popular, it is important to understand that cradle cap is not caused due to any bacterial infection or poor hygiene [4] .

How To Deal With Cradle Cap In Babies

How To Treat Cradle Cap In Babies

Due to the delicate skin of the newborn babies, no aggressive treatment for cradle cap is advised as the condition is known to disappear on its own in due course. Nevertheless, here are a few ways to deal with cradle cap in babies:

1. Wash with shampoo

You may wash your baby's head with a mild tear-free shampoo every day, followed by gently brushing down the area with a special cradle cap brush [6] . This may be enough to exfoliate the skin and reduce the appearance of patches. You may have to repeat the washing and brushing process every day until the scales subside.

How To Deal With Cradle Cap In Babies

2. Lubricate with oil

Petroleum jelly or baby oil can also be used to treat cradle cap. Just apply a generous amount of petroleum jelly, olive oil or baby oil [7] to the affected area and let it soak in. You can later wash the area with a mild shampoo. Make sure not to leave the oil or lotion on for too long or else it may aggravate the condition. You can also do the following:

Massage coconut oil daily on your baby's scalp. This will help reduce the redness and dryness. Leave it on for 20 minutes before brushing the dry skin off.

Tea tree oil is known to control the secretion of sebum in babies with cradle cap [8] . However, it is important for you to dilute it before using the oil on your baby's delicate skin. Tea tree oil along with any other carrier oil in the ratio of 1:10 is ideal. Leave the oils for a good 20 minutes and wash off as usual.

The moisturising property of shea butter is great to treat cradle cap in your baby [9] . Simply apply a generous portion of the butter onto the affected area and brush off the flaky layer with a soft brush.

3. Use medicated creams or over-the-counter cradle cap products

If you wish to seek medical advice to treat your baby's cradle cap, the doctors usually prescribe a hydrocortisone cream or shampoo [10] that will help loosen the scales and reduce the appearance of cradle caps. However, do make sure to check with your doctor first before using any medicated cream in your newborn. There are a lot of OTC medications that will help you manage and get rid of your baby's cradle cap. Just be sure to check if they are baby specific.

4. Use humidifiers

Humidifiers are a great way to treat cradle cap in babies. Keeping humidifiers where your baby sleeps can prevent the scales from drying out, making it easier for you to brush them off. You can also keep your baby in a bathroom full of steam to have the same effect [11] .

5. Intake of vitamin A by nursing mothers

Intake of vitamin A supplements by the nursing mother is known to reduce cradle cap in newborns [12] . Vitamin A is essential for healthy skin. If you are breastfeeding your baby, this may be the best way to get your baby a healthy dose of vitamin A through your breastmilk.

6. Apply breast milk

Rich in nutrients and antibodies, your breast milk may be the ultimate cure for your baby's cradle cap. You can apply a small amount of your breast milk onto your baby's scalp to soothe the area.

7. Apply aloe vera

Freshly extracted aloe vera is safe to be used on newborns as well. Simply cut up a fresh aloe leaf and rub on your baby's scalp [13] . It will not only provide a soothing relief but will also help get rid of the dead skin layer.

How To Deal With Cradle Cap In Babies

Things To Avoid While Treating Cradle Cap In Babies

The most effective way of dealing with cradle cap is moisturising and exfoliating. However, it is important not to overdo it as it may damage your baby's delicate skin. Follow the below tips:

  • Overexfoliation is one of the risk factors while treating cradle cap in babies. Make sure not to use hard brushes to get rid of the flakes as it will only lead to skin bruising and redness.
  • Too much moisturization will trap the dead skin cells, worsening the condition. Make sure not to keep any oils or other emollients for longer than required.
  • Any medicated creams or shampoos should not be used without the doctor's prescription.

Prevention Of Cradle Cap

Cradle cap is a common condition that develops sometime after your baby is born. Because doctors are not quite sure for the exact reason for the cause of cradle caps, there may be no definite ways to prevent. However, you can surely manage the condition and prevent it from getting worse.

Regular moisturising and brushing before a head wash with a mild shampoo, may be enough to keep your baby's cradle cap from returning. Also, it is important not to keep any kind of oil on your baby's scalp for long as it may prevent the dead cells from shedding and worsen the condition.

When To See A Doctor

Though cradle cap is quite a common issue and resolves on its own over time, you need to keep an eye out for some warning signs like itching, pus, or fever. All these signs can be of an infection, in which case your baby will need to be examined by a doctor immediately.

Most of the time, cradle cap is confused with another common skin condition, eczema. Cradle cap is a characterised as a red and flaky skin patch that usually begins to form at the scalp. Also, it is non-infectious and non-itchy. On the other hand, eczema begins on the face and spreads to the hands and legs. These dry patches are often itchy and uncomfortable for the baby. Unlike cradle cap, eczema is usually hereditary and stems from a history of allergies and asthma. It is important for you as a parent to differentiate the two for effective treatment.

If you are having trouble recognising your baby's cradle cap, a doctor's opinions will certainly help put your doubts to rest.

View Article References
  1. [1] Nobles, T., & Krishnamurthy, K. (2018). Cradle Cap. InStatPearls [Internet]. StatPearls Publishing.
  2. [2] Thayikkannu, A. B., Kindo, A. J., & Veeraraghavan, M. (2015). Malassezia-Can it be Ignored?.Indian journal of dermatology,60(4), 332–339.
  3. [3] Usatine R. P. (2000). A baby with pink cheeks.The Western journal of medicine,172(4), 226–227.
  4. [4] Borda, L. J., & Wikramanayake, T. C. (2015). Seborrheic Dermatitis and Dandruff: A Comprehensive Review.Journal of clinical and investigative dermatology,3(2), 10.
  5. [5] Skin care for your baby. (2007).Paediatrics & child health,12(3), 245–251.
  6. [6] Cheong, W. K., Yeung, C. K., Torsekar, R. G., Suh, D. H., Ungpakorn, R., Widaty, S., … Micali, G. (2016). Treatment of Seborrhoeic Dermatitis in Asia: A Consensus Guide.Skin appendage disorders,1(4), 187–196.
  7. [7] Smoker, A. L. (2007). On top of cradle cap.The journal of family health care,17(4), 134-136.
  8. [8] Berk, T., & Scheinfeld, N. (2010). Seborrheic dermatitis.P & T : a peer-reviewed journal for formulary management,35(6), 348–352.
  9. [9] Del Rosso J. Q. (2011). Adult seborrheic dermatitis: a status report on practical topical management.The Journal of clinical and aesthetic dermatology,4(5), 32–38.
  10. [10] Hengge U. R. (). Topical, Non-Medicated LOYON(®) in Facilitating the Removal of Scaling in Infants and Children with Cradle Cap: a Proof-of-Concept Pilot Study.Dermatology and therapy,4(2), 221–232.
  11. [11] Krafchik B. R. (2000). Eczema.Paediatrics & child health,5(2), 101–105.
  12. [12] Simpson, E. L., Keck, L. E., Chalmers, J. R., & Williams, H. C. (2012). How should an incident case of atopic dermatitis be defined? Asystematic review of primary prevention studies.The Journal of allergy and clinical immunology,130(1), 137–144.
  13. [13] Barak-Shinar, D., Del Río, R., & Green, L. J. (2017). Treatment of Seborrheic Dermatitis Using a Novel Herbal-based Cream.The Journal of clinical and aesthetic dermatology,10(4), 17–23.

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