The Best Cradle Cap Treatments: Doctors Explain What to Do (and What Not to Do) About This Skin Condition
by Laura Fisher
Image Credits: Pexels
Plus, we found 10 treatments and gentle shampoos parents say have worked on their babies’ cradle cap.
When I brought my perfect little newborn home from the hospital, I suddenly found myself wondering why these bundles of joy don’t come with instruction manuals. Diaper rash, strange-colored poop, figuring out exactly how to swaddle a baby effectively—there’s no shortage of things to figure out with a new baby. So when our baby boy suddenly developed flaky, scaly skin all over his scalp and across his forehead, I was horrified and at a loss for how to treat this seemingly alarming issue. As it turns out, what our baby had is known as cradle cap, and there was no need to panic.
Cradle cap is quite common, according to Debra M. Langlois, MD, a pediatrician at the University of Michigan. “It typically appears in the first weeks of life, gradually improves over weeks to months, and often resolves by 1 year of age,” she tells Parenting.
That doesn’t mean, however, that there’s nothing you can do to treat this unpleasant infant condition.
Best Cradle Cap Solutions
- Fridababy The FlakeFixer 3-Step Cradle Cap System
- Babo Botanicals Sensitive Baby 2-in-1 Shampoo and Wash
- Fridababy DermaFrida The Skin Soother
- Tubby Todd The Extra Tubby Regulars Bundle
- Mustela Baby Cradle Cap Bundle With Natural Avocado
- FridaBaby Oh Cr*p Cradle Cap Flake Fixer Scalp Spray + Scalp Mask Duo
- Babyganics Infant Cradle Cap Cleansing Oil
- Scalp Scrubbie Cradle Cap and Baby Bath Time Sponge Brush
- Burt’s Bees Baby Shampoo and Wash (Pack of Three)
- Bella B Bee Gone Cradle Cap Baby Shampoo
What Is Cradle Cap?
“Cradle cap is yellow, scaly patches and redness on your baby’s scalp,” Langois explains. “Sometimes this scale can be so widespread and thick on the scalp that it resembles a cap.”
While this is most common in the first 6 months of life, according to Adena Rosenblatt, MD PhD, assistant professor of pediatric dermatology at the University of Chicago, it can also be seen in children and teens and adults.
“The medical term for ‘cradle cap’ is seborrheic dermatitis and is on the spectrum of dandruff,” she tells Parenting. “It is thought to be due in part to an overgrowth of a yeast that is commonly found on the skin.” The condition is luckily not harmful and usually goes away on its own, but parents often choose to treat cradle cap with at-home remedies.
“Sometimes you can get some hair loss associated with cradle cap but please be reassured that this is not a permanent hair loss and the hair will grow back over time,” Rosenblatt says.
How to Treat Cradle Cap
Both doctors expressed that there is usually no need to treat cradle cap. “While the sight of cradle cap may be bothersome to parents, it is not harmful, and thankfully doesn’t tend to be bothersome to the baby,” Langois says. But if your baby seems itchy or uncomfortable, or if the cradle cap becomes red or seems irritating, it’s time to go to the doctor, because those could be signs of a secondary skin infection, according to Langois.
Cradle cap itself is not infectious, so it won’t spread to others. (Phew!) That being said, I know that I was too impatient to wait the few months necessary for my son’s cradle cap to clear up on its own, and I eagerly researched all the different techniques and potions for treatment.
Most of the treatment methods involve either starting with a gentle soap or oil to soften scales, then removing flakes manually with a brush. Some people recommend following this up with an additional moisturizing treatment. “I would recommend applying mineral oil to the scalp and gently combing the hair with a comb,” advises Rosenblatt. Langois’ system of choice is washing your baby’s hair with a mild shampoo and using a soft brush or fine tooth comb to gently remove the flakes.
According to both doctors, one method I used was a clear no: “I would avoid picking the scale off the scalp. It often removes the hair as well,” says Rosenblatt. Langois adds that picking anything off your baby’s skin increases their risk of developing an infection. So as tempting as it can be to lift those flakes off with your fingertips (guilty!), try to avoid doing so and choose one of the gentler options below.
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