It may be more than a little alarming when babies develop discolored, scaly, crusty patches over their soft new skin. This condition is known to doctors as seborrheic dermatitis, and to the rest of us as cradle cap. Despite the name, it can involve not only the scalp, but also the face and other parts of the body. And it can affect toddlers as well as infants. As unsightly as the condition may appear, rest assured that cradle cap is both completely harmless and temporary. It's basically the infant form of dandruff. Nevertheless, it may be hard to look at such a skin condition on your baby without wanting to do something about it.
What causes cradle cap?Doctors aren't exactly sure what causes cradle cap, but they do have several theories. What is known is that the condition thrives on oily skin. This is thought to originate from hormones the baby gets from his or her mother before birth. Perhaps cradle cap is simply caused by dead skin sticking to oily skin rather than falling off. But another theory says that it has to do with oily skin's reaction to Malassezia furfur, a kind of yeast.
What are the teratment options?Because it's so common, it's not a bad idea to try to prevent cradle cap before it even starts. It turns out that regular shampooing of your baby's scalp is a simple but effective way to stave off the scales.
So what to do when cradle cap has already started to plague that tender baby skin? If baby shampoo doesn't do the trick, you may want to move on to the medicated kind. Even though cradle cap is basically the dandruff, it's not the best idea to buy an adult anti - dandruff shampoo to use on a baby - it will be too harsh on an infant's sensitive skin. The good news is that shampoos for cradle cap do exist, although you should probably consult a doctor before using one.
It isn't enough to just shampoo your baby's delicate scalp. You also need to help him or her get rid of the flakes.
Think of the rubdown as a very gentle exfoliation. Baby hair brushes have soft, natural bristles that, to an adult, feel like barely anything at all. There are several hair tools marketed as "cradle cap brushes," but there isn't much of a difference, if any. Just like you'll want to be shampooing more frequently, you should also be brushing more frequently. Gently massage the baby's scalp and use the brush while shampooing to help remove scales. (If you pick at them, you can irritate the skin, which can lead to infection.)
Another option, if you don't have a brush handy or your baby isn't fond of it, is to use a terrycloth towel. (Following up the whole process by swaddling your infant in an adorable hooded robe is optional.)
What are the home remedies?The good news is that throughout the generations of dealing with this skin condition, parents have discovered several other remedies that appear to work for many babies. For instance, some oils, such as mineral oil, olive oil, or petroleum jelly may help get rid of cradle cap. If you're worried about using medicated shampoo on a baby's sensitive skin, this might be a good alternative. Soak the baby's scalp with the oil for half an hour before washing it out and gently brush the scales.
If you ask enough parents for their cradle cap advice, you'll come across some who swear by certain lesser-known natural remedies. For instance, some suggest washing a baby's skin with such things as tea, chamomile, burdock or comfrey root. Other supposed remedies include almond oil or products containing viola (the herb, not the instrument) or marigold. If you're a fan of aromatherapy, you may be interested in adding essential oil of lavender to vegetable oil to massage the baby's skin. You can decide to use essential oils, but do so with caution -- they can cause allergic reactions in some people.
When to see a doctor?If none of your remedies seem to help and what you thought was cradle cap doesn't clear up, it's time for a visit a pediatric dermatologist, because you may need prescription for special therapy, or because other skin conditions can easily be confused with seborrhoic dermatitis.
Different forms of eczema can affect babies, showing up as oozy bumps and dry, itchy skin on the scalp. Psoriasis can also target little ones, and while it doesn't usually show up on a baby's head, it can cause what looks like a rash combined with flakes or scales. It isn't very common in infants, so you may want a dermatologist's opinion.