What Is Cradle Cap?
Cradle cap,“infantile seborrheic dermatitis”, is a collection of odd patches of a thick, yellowish, oily, greasy, scaly, dry, crusty skin condition that can soon develop on your baby’s scalp shortly after birth, for seemingly no reason at all.
Up to 70% of infants in their first three months develop cradle cap and some are even born with it.
The location of the seborrheic dermatitis can be wherever the body has the largest number of oil-producing sebaceous glands such as the arm pits, eye lids, eyebrows, ears, the groin area and, of course, more commonly on the scalp.
The skin flakes on the scalp are like dandruff but larger and crustier.
In some cases, there may be a mild redness or a red rash appears also in the diaper area, but is not a diaper rash.
Cradle cap is not contagious and will not cause itching.
Babies may also lose their hair where the cradle cap is located, but the hair will likely grow back after the cradle cap is gone.
The skin is the largest organ in the body and a very sensitive one.
It is the first line of defense so it reflects what is going on in the body; therefore, there may be more going on than what you see on the surface.
What Your Doctor May Tell You About Cradle Cap
Most doctors will likely tell you that cradle cap is not itchy and, therefore, is not eczema.
Your doctor may tell you that cradle cap has no irritation, is non-contagious and not a sign of an allergy.
Your doctor may ask you:
- How long your baby has had cradle cap?
- How have you treated it?
- How many times do you shampoo your baby’s hair?
- What products have you tried?
Your doctor will likely also assure you that cradle cap is not a result of poor hygiene and that it will leave no scars.
The American Academy of Pediatrics does not have a medical theory for cradle cap, nor do they have many causation factors.
Doctors may say that the cradle cap is caused by extreme weather conditions.
Your doctor may also tell you that babies will shed old skin (like dandruff) just as adults do and the dead skin may accumulate where the oil is present on the baby’s scalp forming yellow, crusty, flaky skin which is known as cradle cap.
Your doctor may also be concerned of secondary complications such as red and swollen skin with blisters, pus or lesions that weep.
In this case there may be a bacterial infection such as Staphylococcus aureus or Streptococcus which doctors will treat with a topical antibiotic cream.
Your doctor may feel that there is a bacterial infection in the sebaceous glands caused by a fungus such as yeast triggering the infantile seborrheic dermatitis. Your doctor may treat this with antifungal creams.
Your doctor may suggest using mineral oil, a medicated scalp ointment with steroids such as hydrocortisone or anti-fungal and anti-dandruff shampoos with selenium sulfide for your baby.
Your doctor will likely tell you not to worry, that this is nothing serious, and with time the cradle cap will go away.
Another Way to Think About Cradle Cap
Clear skin means a healthy environment inside baby’s body and vice versa.
Cradle cap may signify an underlying imbalance in the gastrointestinal system (gut flora and microbiome) which may lead to gut dysbiosis and nutritional deficiencies, both of which need to be addressed.
Biotin deficiency is a common underlying factor in infants.
In the human body, biotin is provided, for the most part, by intestinal bacteria.
Gut dysbiosis in infants may cause a biotin deficiency.
In many cases, cradle cap will improve when nursing mothers and infants take biotin along with following other recommendations for improving the underlying imbalance in the gut.
Inflammation of the sebaceous glands can be caused by maternal hormones from the birthing process transferring to the baby in the womb, causing an increase production of sebum oil which eventually results in a blockage trapping flaky skin.
Too much oil in the hair follicles and on the baby’s scalp combined with an overgrowth of new skin cells which becomes flaky, scaly and crusty skin all can add up to cradle cap.
Food Intolerances, Sensitivities and Allergies
Inflammation can also be caused by food intolerances, sensitivities and allergies.
Cradle cap is common in babies whose family has a history of food intolerances, sensitivities and allergies and/or immune-related conditions such as asthma, eczema, and dermatitis.
According to well-known naturopath Joseph E. Pizzorno ND, 67% of seborrheic dermatitis patients have some form of allergy by ten years of age.
Infantile seborrheic dermatitis is known to have an underlying bacterial imbalance in the gut causing yeast or fungal infections.
Therefore, when underlying toxins increase due to gut dysbiosis, leaky gut and possibly SIBO (Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth), they lay the groundwork for possible yeast and fungus infections in the body that the body will naturally try and eliminate or detox first through the skin.
The head, hands and feet are common exit points for detoxification.
Yeast infections in cradle cap are typically from the Malassenzia (Pityrosporum) strain of yeast; both cradle cap and dandruff have been found to be caused by this specific strain of yeast.
Antibiotics also contribute to cradle cap because they increase yeast infections which are known to trigger cradle cap.
Antibiotics are routinely given to infants following their birth while in the hospital. Moms are also given antibiotics, which can increase yeast and fungus in nursing babies.
Mothers are routinely given antibiotics during pregnancy, in labor, during a C-section, for Group B Strep positive or after the birth while nursing, which alters the baby’s gut flora and good bacteria (microbiome), increasing pathogens like yeast and fungus.
Moms who have had a C-section do not expose their babies to their beneficial bacteria from the vaginal microbes in the vaginal canal, compromising both vaginal and gut flora between the antibiotics and the C-section.
Antibiotics kill both beneficial and bad bacteria, stripping the microbiome of good bacteria in the gut needed for the baby.
Ultimately this lowers the baby’s immune system and increases the likelihood of yeast, fungus and other pathogens in the baby’s digestive tract.
Breast milk is the best solution for a weakened or compromised immune system.
Breast milk supplies baby with many naturally occurring immune boosters for baby’s immune system.
If you are not able to breast feed, consider finding donor breast milk.
Babies may also be allergic to their formula, so healthier forms of milk that are not allergenic like coconut-based milks or non-dairy milks such as goat milk may be good alternatives.
Mama Natural lists alternative baby formula recipes and ways to procure donor breast milk.
Cradle Cap Checklist to Start
Make dietary changes (for the breastfeeding mother):
Nursing babies may be very responsive to inflammatory foods in the mother’s diet which affect the quality of her breast milk.
Add in organic and natural anti-inflammatory foods.
Make sure you remove overly acidic food such as white refined flour, simple sugars and carbohydrates.
To reduce inflammation, heat and acidity, avoid tea, coffee, alcohol, soft drinks, sugar, dairy, wheat (possibly gluten), chemically preserved and processed foods and sweeteners.
- Eat whole foods
- Buy organic foods
- Remove all GMO foods
- Remove all fast and processed foods
- Remove all foods with:
- Artificial colors
- Artificial ingredients
- Remove potentially inflammatory foods such as:
- Strictly limit:
- Refined salt
- Refined carbohydrates
- Join the Feingold Association www.Feingold.org to learn more.
- Alkalize your diet with greens such as:
- Collard greens
Check out healthy meals for new moms at Mama Natural.
Include plenty of good quality fats (for the breastfeeding mother):
Another important addition to nursing mother’s diet is good quality fats.
These fats supply good quality soothing oil to breast milk which can reduce inflammation and irritation of the skin on baby’s scalp.
Most skin conditions improve with these added fats because there usually is a deficit of lubricating and moisturizing oils in the body.
Try to eat food with lots of omega 3 essential fatty acids such as:
- Coconut oil
- Olive oil
- Wild salmon
- Organic chicken
- Organic turkey
- Grass-fed ghee
- Essential fatty acids from:
- Cod liver oil
- Hemp seeds
- Flax seeds
- Evening primrose oil
- Borage oil
- Walnut oil
- Krill oil
Remove vegetable oils (for the breastfeeding mother) such as:
Heal the gut (for the breastfeeding mother) with special diets that focus on removing grains and reducing sugars, fructose and starchy carbohydrates, such as:
- GAPS (Gut And Psychology Syndrome) diet
- Body Ecology Diet
- GF/CF (gluten-free/casein-free) diet
- Paleo diet
- Modified Atkins diet (replaces the ketogenic diet)
Learn more about healing diets and foods
Add fermented foods (for the breastfeeding mother) and probiotics (for mom and baby) daily:
Fermented foods are one of the most powerful ways to restore your baby’s beneficial gut flora.
Nursing moms can enjoy fermented foods in your diet while bottle-fed babies can have kefir yogurts in their formula.
These will keep the gastrointestinal system and microbiome healthy and strong which in turn will keep the immune system strong.
- Eat kefir yogurts
- Eat fermented vegetables
- Eat umeboshi plums (very alkalizing)
- Eat miso soup, if soy is tolerated
Good bacteria in the microbiome can correct the bacterial imbalance.
Another way to improve your baby’s beneficial gut bacteria is with probiotics; babies need good beneficial bacteria to help prevent the overgrowth of yeast and fungal infections.
Fungus can trigger cradle cap, diaper rash, ear infections, and oral thrush (yeast on the tongue).
Culturelle For Babies and Reuteri by Nature’s Way are two good probiotics for babies.
Some good probiotics for the breastfeeding mother are:
- Gut Pro
- Dr. Ohirra’s Live Cultured Probiotics
- Garden of Life
- Klaire Labs
Use natural supplements with your practitioner’s guidance:
Vitamin D3 deficiency is a concern more with bottle-fed babies that with nursing babies who automatically receive important antibodies from their mother to protect their immune system.
Add some D3 to your baby’s bottle; take walks so baby and mom get sunshine or add a little cod liver oil to that baby bottle!
Other supplements to consider for a breastfeeding mom are:
- Vitamins C, A, E and K
- Active B Complex
- B6 (P5P)
- Copper (minerals)
- Zinc picolinate (more absorbable form of zinc)
- Trace minerals with fulvic acid
- Essential fatty acids:
- Cod liver oil
- Krill oil
- Flax seeds
- Evening primrose oil
- Black currant seed oil
- Borage oil
Use digestive aids (for the breastfeeding mother) with your practitioner’s guidance:
Digestive enzymes for the nursing mother can assist in reducing food sensitivities and intolerances in the baby:
- Betaine hydrochloric acid (HCl) for low stomach acid (with meals)
- Digestive enzymes with DPP-IV for gluten and casein intolerances (with meals)
- Proteolytic enzymes (on an empty stomach)
- BiCarb (on an empty stomach)
- Bromelain (with meals)
- Papaya (with meals)
Explore ways to lessen cradle cap:
- Gently massage your baby’s scalp with organic coconut oil, olive oil, jojoba or almond oil for a while, letting the oil sit for at least 15 minutes to nourish baby’s scalp. Then take a special light cradle cap brush or a very fine-toothed comb and gently go over the affected area, stimulating the scalp and trying to sweep away the dead skin. Once the flakes have been removed, wash baby’s scalp with a natural chemical-free baby shampoo (see below) to remove the oil.
- Gentle massaging and brushing daily helps stimulates the scalp and eliminates dead oily skin. Avoid scratching or picking the scalp because this may cause irritation.
- Terrycloth towels are perfect to massage and dry your baby’s scalp always gently.
- Did you know that rinsing your baby’s scalp a few times a day with breast milk is an old remedy to get rid of cradle cap?
- Making a paste of equal parts of baking soda and water and applying to baby’s head for a minute can also help eliminate cradle cap.
- Almond oil is wonderful for sensitive skin and is a good substitute for tea tree oil which may be too strong on a baby’s scalp but is just as effective in eliminating any fungal infection. Almond oil penetrates the skin quickly.
- Coconut oil has antifungal and antibacterial properties
- Do not overwash your baby’s head. It is better to wash baby’s scalp every two to three days so that the oils do not increase too quickly. Over washing can worsen cradle cap.
- Always keep your baby’s scalp moist after shampooing with a natural lotion for moisture. This helps prevent the scalp from becoming drier and flakier and can calm down the inflammation. Shea butter, calendula-infused cream or evening primrose oil are good choices for natural lotions.
- Babies love a soothing bath. Chamomile and oats in a muslin cloth or stocking can be placed over the bath tub tap so the warm water runs through it making the bath water silky and soft. Chamomile is calming to the skin and oats contain mucopolysaccharides, which help stop itching and irritation and allow the skin to heal.
- Never apply hydrogen peroxide, undiluted apple cider vinegar or essential oils directly on to your baby’s scalp without mixing them because they are too strong. A few drops of essential oils such as lavender, borage or calendula maybe be added to your baby’s massage oil.
- Never keep any oils on your baby’s scalp overnight because the excess oil will clog the oil glands further and worsen the condition. Always wash baby’s scalp after 15 minutes.
- Check with your baby’s pediatrician to make sure the formula you are giving your baby is right for them. (See formula suggestions below.)
- Re-evaluate your own diet if you are nursing your baby. Healthier choices for you and the baby can make a significant difference for baby.
- Using the humidifier can provide moisture in the air and may be helpful in an overly dry home, especially if you have the furnace or air conditioner on. If a humidifier is not available, then large basins of water can help provide moisture as well.
- Place a small amount of probiotic around your nipple before nursing your baby. Bottle-fed babies can have probiotics put in their formula. Eventually baby will build up resistance to the bad bacteria and reduce the yeast and fungal infections. The proliferation of good beneficial bacteria will help build immunity and protect the baby from further infections.
- Nursing moms can take nutrients to improve the quality of skin for their babies by taking such nutrients as aloe vera, apple cider vinegar, raw honey, krill oil and high-quality probiotics. (For more information, see nutrient list above.)
Use homeopathy for cradle cap:
- Sulphur 6C: a general remedy for skin conditions. Can be used for infants whose cradle cap maybe oozing and very itchy
- Thuja 6C: is for the baby who is cooler and calmer and likes being snuggled. If Sulphur doesn’t clear your infant’s cradle cap, Thuija should
- Calcarea Carbonic 6C is specific for the baby who has nutritional deficits
Check out United Remedies for further information on different homeopathic remedies for your baby.
Use herbal solutions for babies with cradle cap (check with your pediatrician):
Herbs are a very good way to strengthen and tone the organs.
Breastfeeding moms may use herbal teas but most herbal tinctures have an alcohol content and should not be given to babies unless directed by your pediatrician.
However, some non-alcoholic tinctures can be found that are made in water or glycerin, vinegar or honey base.
- Slippery elm (Ulmus fulva) has a very soothing effect on the leaky gut digestive tract. It will also help foods assimilate properly and reduce any gastrointestinal upsets. Nursing moms can put a little amount on their nipples while bottle-fed babies can have 1/8th to ¼ tsp. in their bottles. You can also combine the powdered bark with water and make a slippery elm “gruel,” similar in texture to instant oatmeal. Check with your child’s pediatrician first before using slippery elm gruel in your child’s diet.
Explore shampoos for the baby with cradle cap:
Do not use any harsh chemicals, dyes and alcohol on baby’s delicate skin.
It is always best to use non- chemical, fragrance-free body products, soaps, shampoos and lotions on baby’s sensitive scalp.
Common irritants to the skin contained in most body and face care products are:
- Sodium lauryl sulfate or any of its derivatives
- Petroleum based products
- EthyleneDiamide Tetraacetic Acid (EDTA)
Also avoid using over-the-counter hydrocortisone, anti-fungal creams like ketoconazole and any dandruff shampoos containing strong ingredients like coal tar and salicylic acid, which can all be very toxic to babies.
Not happy with the shampoos on the market? You want something simple, clean and chemical-free.
The Bump lists a variety of shampoos and bath products for baby, and here are some simple recipes for making your own at home:
- ¼ tsp unscented castile soap
- 2 chamomile tea bags
- 2 cups hot water
- 1 drop each tea tree and lavender essential oil
- 1 tbsp. olive or coconut oil
- Gently massage 1 tablespoon of oil and essential oils onto baby’s scalp for about 2 minutes.
- Let the oil sit in baby’s scalp for 20 minutes.
- Comb baby’s hair several times to loosen up the cradle cap and start removing the flaky skin.
- Meanwhile, soak 2 organic chamomile tea bags in 2 cups of hot water for 20 minutes. Remove tea bags and be sure that the water is warm, or at room temperature.
- Put baby in the bath and rub their hair with ¼ tsp castile soap and scrub thoroughly yet gently.
- Slowly rinse the scalp with the warm (not hot!) chamomile tea, being careful not to get soap into baby’s eyes. Rub the scalp and be sure all the soap is washed out.
- Comb baby’s hair well to remove any remaining flakes. Repeat 2-3 times a week.
Apple Cider Vinegar Elixir
Apple cider vinegar is a miracle worker for so many things, and cradle cap is no different. It’s probiotic and antifungal to help balance out the scalp naturally.
- 2 tbsp raw apple cider vinegar
- 1/4 cup filtered water
- Pour the mixture over baby’s scalp, making sure that none gets in their eyes.
- Massage the scalp for a few minutes and then let the vinegar mixture sit on there for 10 minutes before rinsing out with water.
Iodine Aloe Gel
Aloe is soothing to the skin, and can improved dandruff symptoms. For this recipe you can get a small aloe vera plant a large aloe vera leaf from the health food store.
- Aloe vera leaf
- 1-2 drops nascent iodine
- Unscented castile soap
- Cut a small portion of the leaf and extract 1 tablespoon of aloe vera gel. Add 1-2 drops of nascent iodine and apply to baby’s scalp.
- Leave on for at least 20 minutes and then wash out with castile soap.
See a homeopath or naturopath:
These practitioners can diagnose and treat gastrointestinal disorders naturally so that the child’s immune, sensory, neurological and nervous systems develop without being compromised.