Parents are often shocked when they see their newborn's scalp covered in tiny white scales and flakes that don't go away with washing. Here is all you need to know about flaky baby scalp, cradle cap and neonatal seborrheic dermatitis.
Cradle cap / seborrheic dermatitis - What is cradle cap?
Cradle cap or milk crust is an oily yellowish green scaling or crusting on the baby's scalp that usually appears before the child is three months old. It is a harmless but very common condition that can affect newborns, infants and toddlers. It usually starts as tiny white flakes on the scalp and builds up to form thick yellowish crusts that get stuck to the baby's head. If your baby has cradle cap, you might also notice scales and crusting on the forehead, eyebrows, around the ear and sometimes even on the child's eyelids.
What causes cradle cap?
There are two schools of thought when it comes to what causes cradle cap. Some experts point to a fungal infection that can sometimes affect other parts of the body such as the face, neck and groin area, causing baby acne and a persistent nappy rash.
Other experts attribute the onset of cradle cap to hyperactive sebaceous glands. In simple terms, the glands in baby's skin are hyper activated because of the hormones the mother passed through the placenta just before birth. These glands pump out a greasy substance that keeps the old skin cells the baby normally sheds from the scalp and other areas, attached to the skin.
In most cases this condition is totally harmless and does not bother the baby even if a red rash appears on the skin. It often resolves on its own by the baby's first birthday but there are cases where it might persist up to the third birthday.
Treatment for cradle cap
Though there are several cradle cap shampoos available on the market and you will find plenty of advice on homemade remedies on the Internet, keep in that you are dealing with the delicate skin of a newborn, so try a simple gentle remedy before going for harsh alternatives (such as using dandruff shampoo) on a baby's skin.
The oil remedy
The olive oil remedy is the simplest and most effective remedy I have found so far and is often one of the most effective.
For the baby's skin Simply dab a little olive oil on a small piece of cotton wool and wipe the areas where you see the white flakes. This remedy works like magic on the newborn's skin and you should see the flakes attaching to the cotton wool. You can also use this olive oil remedy on the outside part of the ear. Remember to be gentle with the child's skin - softly tapping the area with your cotton wool should do the trick.
For the baby's scalp try using the same remedy but this time use more olive oil on the cotton wool. For mild cases leave the oil on the baby's scalp for about 15 minutes, then brush the scales away with a soft brush and wash with mild baby shampoo.
If the scales still persist, try leaving the olive oil on the baby's scalp for three to four hours to soften the crusts before removing them with a soft brush and washing them away with shampoo. It is important to wash away all the oil residue from the baby's scalp once you finish, as this greasy residue can clog the child's pores and worsen the condition.
Another solution is to use gentle over the counter baby shampoos specifically designed to eliminate cradle cap which you can use together with the olive oil remedy.
Note: If you don't like the smell of olive oil on your baby's scalp, you can substitute olive oil with almond oil or petroleum jelly which are also effective at softening the crusts and scabs.
Cradle cap / seborrheic dermatitis - When should you consult your doctor?
When the cradle cap does not improve with the above remedies, becomes red or inflamed or spreads to other areas it is the time to seek medical help.
Doctors often prescribe seborrheic shampoo containing selenium, salicylic acid, or tar for a persistent cradle cap and a small amount of cortisone cream for the red inflamed areas, but it is best to let your doctor diagnose your child's condition in case he or she might need further tests or medications.
How do you prevent cradle cap from coming back?
Once the condition is under control, frequent gentle shampoo should keep the scalp clear.