As many as 40% of all infants develop cradle cap (medical term: infantile seborrheic dermatitis) during their first months of living. It is completely harmless and does not disturb your baby.
Many parents worry that it can impair the growth of their baby’s hair, but there are no studies that back up those worries.
For many children, no treatment at all is needed and it all clears up on its own within a few years. However, if you do want to treat it, I’ll show you a few ways.
Cradle Cap Causes And Treatments
Why Babies Get Cradle CapFor a long time, it was unknown why babies get cradle cap (and it still doesn’t seem to be a widespread knowledge). But actually already in 1993 some Swedish researchers published a study (Tolleson, A., and Frithz. A. 1993. Borage oil: an effective new treatment for infantile seborrheic dermatitis. Brit. J. Dermatol. 129:95.) indicating that they had found the cause of cradle cap. But for some odd reason, the word hasn’t gotten around…
Anyway, their research indicates that the condition is due to an insufficient supply of an essential fatty acid called Gamma-linolenic acid (GLA).
GLA is required for the formation and maintenance of healthy skin cells. The hypothesis is that the infants have an immature enzyme system and are therefore unable to produce sufficient GLA on their own, thus giving rise to the symptoms.
The good news is that this knowledge has led to a new and very effective treatment. The bad news is that the infantile seborrheic dermatitis is likely to continue to come back until the baby’s enzyme system has matured. (But then at least we know why it keeps coming back.)
New Treatment Based on Research
With the new knowledge of what might cause cradle cap, new treatment is available. No need for tedious combing!
Instead there is Borage Oil to use. I’ve tried using a new baby ointment with borage oil on my baby boy’s cradle cap. It is expensive and it doesn’t smell great, but it works like magic!
He had quite a lot of yellow flakes on his scalp and especially behind his ears. It disappeared in only two days. Fantastic!
A while after I stopped the treatment, the yellowish covering came back, though. This makes sense, since the oil treats the symptoms and not the actual immature enzyme system (which the child grows out of).
So what is borage oil?
Borage oil is a natural oil derived from a plant called Borago officinalis or in English Starflower and borage oil is also sometimes called starflower oil. It is very rich in in GLA. It doesn’t only restore moisture and smoothness to dry and damaged skin, but can also provide relief to people who suffer from chronic skin disorders such as eczema and atopic dermatitis.
The borage oil treatment works by supplying GLA until the infant’s own enzyme system caught up. Studies show that for infants treated with borage oil twice a day in two weeks, the cradle cap disappears.
However, if the treatment was discontinued, the yellow flakes came back until the babies were around 7 months old. This seems to be true at least for my boy.
I’ve also used it for myself, because I had a small but stubborn dry eczema on one of my fingers. It really made a difference!
For a good borage oil ontment, check out ShiKai Borage Children’s Formula Lotion. (Link to Amazon.
Actually, the ointment I use, is also recommended for diaper rash. I have tried it, but unfortunately I don’t find it nowhere near as effective for diaper rash as the usual white zinc oxide ointment. But for cradle cap and eczema, it borage oil is just great!
Traditional Home Remedies
If you still want to try the more traditional home remedies to cure cradle cap, here they are:
- The most common home remedy is to put some oil (use organic baby oil for example) on the baby’s scalp, wait for a while and then comb out the flakes with a fine-toothed comb.
- Instead of a comb I’ve also tried using a very soft tooth brush. That works even better in my view.
- Another option is to scratch very gently with a finger nail on the yellow flakes. If the flakes come off really easily, you can do this from time to time when for example breastfeeding. (But only if it doesn’t disturb your baby.)
- There are also all sorts of cradle cap ointments and shampoos available. But the only one that I’ve found really helpful is the kind mentioned above, with borago oil.
If the flakes don’t come off without effort, don’t scratch or comb without baby oil. You might harm your baby’s delicate skin.
Afterwards, wash the baby’s head with some water and if necessary to get rid of the oil, some mild baby shampoo.
My children have all had cradle cap behind their ears and on their forehead and eye brows. It has worked just fine to get rid of it with oil.
However, if the cradle cap becomes very extensive or you find it hard to treat, it may be wise to contact a pediatrician to see if any special treatment is needed. For example, it can spread to the face, armpits or the baby’s bottom.