Cradle cap — aka infantile seborrheic dermatitis (if you’re into that whole science thing) — is a common, completely harmless infant skin condition. But no, it certainly doesn’t look harmless. The oily, yellow and/or white flakes will have passersby discretely throwing up in their mouths before saying “Oh . . . what an adorable baby.” And you’re lucky if it’s just affecting the scalp, as the term “cradle cap” implies. These patches can show up on the forehead, cheeks, nose, ears, buttocks, trunk, and more. But while it’s gross, it’s also benign and temporary. Severe cases may cause itching, but generally babies are oblivious to the condition. Doing nothing at all is an acceptable cradle cap treatment—it usually resolves itself within the first few months regardless of what you do.
You will do something, and so would I. Cradle cap makes babies ugly and robs us of those first months of showing off Junior which is one of the bonuses of being a parent. Below I outline how to get rid of cradle cap using research-based treatments. But before you begin any cradle cap treatment, be sure to consult your child’s physician.
Best Cradle Cap Treatments
Apply an emollient
Apply an emollient to loosen up the scales. Baby oil, mineral oil, petroleum jelly, or even vegetable oil will all work well. Slather it on over the affected areas. Keeping it on for fifteen minutes will suffice, but it can be left on overnight.
Rinse and brush
Next, rinse and use a soft-bristled toothbrush to gently rub away the scales. A fine-toothed comb or even a terry cloth rag will also work. Just don’t overdo it—be gentle and know that it will take a couple of days to get rid of cradle cap and have your baby looking pageant-ready once again.
Shampoo more often and after emollient treatments.Babies only need their hair washed a few times a week, but making it a daily event will help get rid of cradle cap more quickly. Shampooing—using a regular old non-medicated baby shampoo—will loosen up the scales and flakes. After rinsing, use a soft-bristled toothbrush or terry cloth rag as described above, rinse again, and pat dry.
Use hydrocortisone cream
Use a low-potency hydrocortisone cream to get rid of stubborn, severe, or inflamed cradle cap. If the conservative treatments above fail to improve the situation, a 1% hydrocortisone cream (such as Aveeno, sold at Amazon) can be used. Apply the cream to the scalp once daily or every other day, but for no longer than one week. If after a week you still haven’t gotten rid of cradle cap, it’s time to visit a doctor.
Use ketoconazole cream
Ketoconazole 2% cream (Nizoral) is another medicated option. In limited studies, this anti-fungal cream has proven to be just as effective as hydrocortisone. It’s also a more popular choice for cases that have spread to other areas on the body. Apply this cream to the baby’s scalp once or twice a week for two weeks. For other areas on the body, apply daily for no more than two weeks.
More Cradle Cap Remedies
Little Star Happy Halo Cradle Cap Remedy
You know what they say: The longer the product name, the better it works. Well, perhaps not. But this product scored a zero with the EWG (Environmental Working Group), which means it is extremely gentle. You massage this stuff into your baby’s scalp, remove the crusties with a soft-bristled toothbrush or fine-toothed comb, and then shampoo it all away. They also make a specific comb, the Safety 1st Cradle Cap Brush and Comb (sold at Amazon) for this purpose.
I’m not sure about this one, but I’ve seen it suggested by a multitude of moms on various newborn message boards. Perhaps these mothers use olive oil for everything: cradle cap, athlete’s foot, depression, broken bones. Before shampooing, use it to soften up scales and remove it with a gentle brush.
Shampoo rinse cup
If you end up having to use something harsher than baby shampoo to get rid of cradle cap, your baby is going to fuss. Using a shampoo shield—available anywhere baby supplies are sold—may cut down on the chaos.
Shampoos like Head & Shoulders or Selsun Blue are known to get rid of cradle cap. However, they can be quite harsh for a baby. Some doctors suggest waiting until the child is at least six months old before using anything but the gentlest soaps. To be on the safe side, ask your doctor before using such shampoos as treatment for cradle cap.
When to Visit a Professional
If the above cradle cap treatments don’t get results, it’s time to again consult your child’s physician. It’s also a good idea to go in if your baby’s cradle cap is spreading to the face or getting worse with treatment. More than likely, your doctor will recommend a dandruff shampoo containing salicylic acid, selenium sulfide (Selsun Blue), zinc pyrithione (Pert Plus), tar, or a stronger medication. Another possible scenario is that you’re not actually dealing with cradle cap, but a similar infant skin condition such as atopic dermatitis, psoriasis, or tinea capitis.