Does your baby have scaly patches of skin on his scalp? It looks like dandruff but worse? Don't panic just yet. It may just be a harmless and common condition in infants called cradle cap. Here's what you need to know about it.
Newborn dandruff —is this even possible?
Cradle cap, or infantile seborrheic dermatitis, comes to mind when we talk about newborn dandruff. Your baby’s scalp will have flaky, greasy or crusty skin that may be white, yellow or brown. It may be present in baby's ears, eyebrows, on his eyelids, and even in his armpits and other body folds.
“Early on, during the first couple of months, that's usually when the cradle cap appears. It's very common in babies, but there’s no way to prevent it,” explained to SmartParenting.com.ph by Dr. Joanne B. Gonzalez, a fellow of the Philippine Dermatological Society and the American Academy of Dermatology who holds a clinic at Derma 360° in Makati.
It may be unsightly, but cradle cap typically doesn't itch. Most of the time, it's harmless, said Dr. Dawn Rosenberg, a pediatrician and a fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics, to BabyCenter. “It's not contagious and doesn't even bother your baby.”
What causes it
Doctors are not sure what causes cradle cap, but one explanation may be overstimulated oil glands which caused by the hormones the baby received from mom while still in the utero, said Dr. Gonzalez.
Another factor may be fungi. “A type of yeast called Malassezia can grow in the sebum (the substance produced by the oil glanced) along with bacteria, and this may be another factor in the development of cradle cap,” according to KidsHealth.
Cradle cap gradually goes away on its own within a baby’s first year of life, explained Dr. Vikash Oza, the director of pediatric dermatology at NYU Langone Health, to TheBump. In the meantime, there are things you can do to loosen and remove the scales.
How to deal
“Cradle cap usually doesn't require medical treatment. It clears up on its own within a few months,” said Mayo Clinic. To remove the scales, during your baby’s bath, you can try massaging his scalp while he has shampoo in his hair. Then, remove the loosened flakes with a fine-tooth comb or soft brush.
For more stubborn cradle cap, you can also use oil. Natural or edible oil is best rather than mineral oil, which can get hot because there’s a lot of friction when you do the massage. Ointment like petroleum jelly works too, said Dr. Rosenberg.
“You can massage the ointment or oil into the scalp to loosen up those scales. And then you can use the brush or comb to remove the scales. Wash her hair afterward to remove the oil,” advised Dr. Rosenberg.
Make sure you get all the oil out (leaving the shampoo in your baby’s hair for a few minutes will help) because it can clog the pores and cause the flakes to be even more sticky.
“With cradle cap, you don’t want to let the scales accumulate, because the buildup can cause the condition to get worse,” said Dr. Karen Mackler, a clinical assistant professor in the department of medicine at Albert Einstein College of Medicine, also to TheBump.
Never scratch to remove the flakes as this can lead to irritation and infection, added Dr. Oza.
When to worry
Check with a pediatrician if the cradle cap is accompanied by an itchy rash. Watch out as well for affected skin that has become red, swollen, or has started to drain fluid as this may be a sign of an infection. Watch out as well for affected skin that's become red, feels warm or has started to drain fluid as this may be a sign of an infection.
This story was updated on March 26, 2019 at 5:00 p.m.