It's a sad fact of life, but a fact nonetheless, that the more babies I have, the fewer baths they get. And if my informal polls are any indication, I'm not the only one this happens to. So when, after a few months of life, my youngest son developed cradle cap on his scalp, I worried that it could be due to my lack of diligence with his hygiene. Um, oops? After doing a little research, I was relieved to find that this is an unsubstantiated myth. But although it's not preventable, you still want to remove that cradle cap as soon as possible — because it's not as benign as you think.
Georgia-based pediatrician and author of A Teaspoon of Honey, Dr. Bande Virgil, tells Romper, "Babies get cradle cap often as a result of natural skin changes as they transition from newborn skin to older infants. The glands of the skin can be overactive, releasing oils and causing build up. It can be quite severe for some babies. Infants can also get bacterial infections or fungal infections superimposed on the skin in affected areas."
While a typical case of cradle cap — a form of "seborrheic dermatitis" — is not harmful, the potential for infection is reason enough to not wait around before treating it. If the flaking scalp does become infected, a prescription antibiotic might be required.
Laguna Hills, CA pediatrician Dr. Eric Morley noted that the cause of cradle cap is not exactly known, but it is "thought to be related to growth of the infant’s sebaceous glands stimulated by maternal hormones, along with yeast." According to Medical News Today, most infants experience cradle cap in the first year of life — it affects about 70 percent of babies by the time they are 3 months old.
Treating cradle cap is simple and easy to do at home, but it does require some time and patience on the part of the caregiver. Virgil instructs parents to use a mild infant shampoo and brush the skin off with a soft-bristled infant brush. Using a gentle oil-based moisturizer for babies can also help, but make sure that what you use is low fragrance and dye-free.
On the other hand, some cases are just more severe than others. Virgil explains that while the aforementioned treatment works perfectly for most cradle cap, "other babies have quite significant build up and can benefit from stronger dandruff-focused shampoos or mild steroid creams. This is to be done under the direction of a pediatrician or family physician only."
It's possible that your baby's case of cradle cap inexplicably irks you. Dr. Daniel Ganjian of Santa Monica confirms that he often sees parents who are worried that the unsightly plaques detract from the otherwise unbearable cuteness of their little bundle of joy. "Cradle cap is more disturbing to parents than the baby. There is no danger in leaving it in place. However, parents want to show off their children and cradle cap can sometimes be unsightly," he tells Romper.
Ganjian recommends the same method of treatment that Virgil suggested, noting that the olive oil in your pantry can provide a great scalp moisturizer. 10 minutes of gentle oil rubbing should make the plaques easy to remove with a soft brush or fine-toothed comb, he says.
While cradle cap is almost always a harmless nuisance in the grand scheme of things, parents should keep an eye on the flaking for signs of infection. Don't waste time treating it just because it's not an immediate danger; it's always better to be safe than sorry. And after all, with a face that cute, she deserves a scalp to match.