What’s This Funky Stuff On Baby’s Head? How To Fix Cradle Cap

Josef Abel [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Josef Abel [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

There’s something amazing about this journey called parenting. It humbles you in a way nothing else can. You could be cruising along, thinking you have everything all figured out.

You hold your kid in your arms, full of intentions of being the best parent there ever was.

And yes, of course, you’re going to be better than your own parents ever were. And then what happens? You’ll come up against something that will completely floor you.

And the ironic thing is, it’s probably your parents who will end up bailing you out. The very people who you thought knew nothing. Yes, that’s the beautiful irony of it all.

It Happened To Us

Coming up against cradle cap had that effect on me. I’d never seen such a thing.

Since the dawn of family planning and smaller families, many new parents haven’t had much to do with babies before having their own.

I remember looking at my baby incredulously, thinking ‘what’s this funky stuff on my baby’s scalp?’. So I did the only thing that I could think of under the circumstances.

I picked up my mobile and dialled my mum’s number. Sure enough, she had the answer. As she always does.

“It’s cradle cap,” she said.

“Don’t worry. You’ll manage,” she added, reassuringly. I was ever so thankful to hear those words.

She went on to tell me to massage the baby’s head with olive oil before bathing him and washing his hair.​

In cases like this, a little bit of research goes a long way. So when Kit was napping with his mother, I logged on to the Internet to find out whatever I could about the condition. And I discovered that there’s quite a lot of information out there for those who are interested to check it out.

This video is from a parenting vlogger called Michelle.

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Infantile Seborrhoeic Dermatitis

Hey! Don’t say that in front of me. Ever!

If there’s one thing that strikes terror into the heart of a conscientious parent, it’s a condition with a strange sounding name. Especially one from which your kid happens to be suffering at the time. No, please!

I far prefer the more innocuous and harmless sounding name ‘cradle cap’. Life with a baby is challenging enough without over-complicating things like that, thank you very much. At least, let’s keep the shocks for the really threatening situations.​

By LepoRello (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], via Wikimedia Commons

By LepoRello (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

​Okay. What Is Infantile Seborrhoeic Dermatitis? In Plain English...

​Infantile seborrhoeic dermatitis or ‘cradle cap’ is (according to a mate of mine who has a kid a few years older than Kit) ‘the kid form of dandruff’.

That’s what the prominent medical website, WebMD says too. Defined like that, it doesn’t seem so alarming after all. Still, when you consider how miserable dandruff can make your life as an adult, you can’t just dismiss it, either.


According to Cafemom, an interesting parenting blog, doctors are not quite sure what causes cradle cap. There are several theories regarding what exactly causes the condition. Here are a few of them:

  • Exposure to the mother’s hormones before birth

  • Exposure to antibiotics given to the mother while pregnant or given routinely to newborn infants in hospitals. The problem with antibiotics is that they kill beneficial (good) bacteria as well as, shall we say, malevolent (bad) bacteria. So, deprived of good bacteria, the kid is left open to the other bacteria.

  • It may be a type of infection, with the dandruff-causing malassezia yeast taking the blame here.

  • The baby having oily skin is a popular theory, with dead skin sticking to oily skin, causing crusting.

  • According to earthclinic.com, baby’s skin sometimes regenerates faster than the old skin cells can be shed, which results in an unsightly rash which can be seen even in the healthiest of babies.

  • Climate seems to play a role too. One piece of advice I noticed was ‘don’t overwash the baby’, which appears to be given to parents who live in drier climates.

    On the other hand, my interview with Lucknow-based paediatrician Dr Sunita Singh reveals that she advises parents to be sure to bathe the baby every day, depending on the season, to prevent conditions like cradle cap.

    Dr. Sunita lives India. In the late summer, the Indian rainy season abounds with humidity and bacteria. In the dry Indian winter season, it might be okay to top and tail the baby, but in the heat and humid laden days, daily bathing is necessary.

  • Parents in drier climates, I’ve discovered, are often advised to keep a humidifier in the baby’s room. So it appears that there’s an optimal temperature and humidity for a baby to live in order to avoid conditions like this

Something to bear in mind

Two major things to remember is that firstly, cradle cap’s not caused by lack of hygiene and secondly, it’s not contagious. This claim is on the medical website Dr Axe.

It’s a skin condition all right, but more of a nuisance than an actual threat to health. There are ways of managing the condition.

Happily, it appears to be a passing phase with many babies. With some, though, it may last longer than a few months. In this case, extra medical attention may be required.​


The baby sheds dry, scaly flakes of skin from his or her scalp.

CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=305422

CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=305422

It makes some parents weep to see their cute, bonny baby like this. In some cases, it might look like baby is morphing into a freaky reptile. It looks unhealthy and in some people’s opinion, unclean.

Let’s get something straight.

There’s no reason for parents to feel shame over this. Use the opportunity to educate yourself regarding the management of the condition.

Take proactive measures to manage it. The baby should soon be back to normal.

But really, unless baby seems to be suffering, I wouldn't sweat it too much.

According to WebMD, there are several symptoms. They include the following:

  • The skin on the baby’s scalp may look oily

  • There may be dark patches of skin on the baby’s scalp. The colour of those patches depends on the colour of the baby’s skin

  • Over time, the patches will turn into flakes and the baby will start shedding those flakes. This is probably the most alarming symptom

  • The skin on the baby’s scalp may also look red and itchy. Don’t worry, the baby doesn’t feel itchy, the condition tends to look worse in some babies than it actually is

  • In some, extreme cases, the baby’s scalp may look inflamed and sore

  • Cradle cap symptoms may sometimes appear on parts of the body other than the scalp. They can appear behind the ears, in the armpits, on the face and even in the diaper area

The condition is common and easy to diagnose, according to the sources I’ve explored. With proper management, it’s possible to control. Some parents notice that even if they don’t do anything (they waited till the next appointment), it tends to disappear after a while.

Treatment Of Cradle Cap​

Medical Treatment or Natural Cure?​

For those of us who are into natural parenting, there’s a clear dilemma here. You want to do what’s best for your baby, but you don’t want to delay your baby’s recovery either.

I suppose it’s all about finding a doctor or a paediatrician who’s on the same page as you are and has the same philosophy.

A doctor who’ll skip the antibiotic if it’s not strictly necessary, but who’ll have no hesitation about prescribing medicine if it’s the only thing to do.​


According to WebMD, treatment of cradle cap, whether using natural or medical remedies, follows this pattern:

  • Most babies’ hair is washed regularly. In the case of cradle cap, the doctor may recommend more frequent washing.

    The shampoo used should be the mildest possible. Use baby shampoo or simple shampoo without harsh chemicals. Wash the hair as gently as possible and remove the shampoo thoroughly afterwards.

  • After washing, brush the baby’s hair gently with a soft brush. This will remove the scaling.

  • After washing and brushing, some parents, after taking advice from their doctors, apply some lubricant to the scalp.

    It could be olive oil (like my mum used), coconut oil, a specially prepared cradle cap balm, or even petroleum jelly. Many parents see a difference in their baby soon after beginning this treatment.

  • Sometimes, if the baby’s scalp is very inflamed, the doctor might prescribe a steroid cream.

    Hydrocortisone cream would be the usual prescription. However, parents should always take the medical advice before applying anything like this. The same goes for any type of medicine to be given to an infant.

Natural Remedies For Cradle Cap



While bathing the baby, wet the head and when it’s damp, apply baking soda. Comb it out afterwards with a baby comb.

This method reportedly removes the cradle cap completely and can also be used to keep the cradle cap away once it’s gone.

Some parents prefer to mix the baking soda with a little water before applying it, making it a paste.



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Apply on the head and comb it out afterwards. It’s reported to remove scaling without hair loss and although rather greasy, it appears to work very well.



You can use shampoo with tea tree oil in it - some parents report great results using this shampoo to remove cradle cap on babies.ea tree oil.

Another option is to use the real thing. Apply tea tree oil on the scalp and then remove it with a mild baby shampoo. This reportedly gives positive results.



Some parents report great results in removing cradle cap with dandruff shampoo.

This might be good, but before applying any kind of chemical based shampoo on a baby, it is always sensible to check in with the doctor first.

Some parents get around this by getting anti-dandruff ‘sensitive’ shampoo and mixing it with baby shampoo.



According to the website earthclinic.com, it’s a good idea to apply apple cider vinegar on the baby’s scalp about ten minutes before starting to bathe the baby. The results have been reported as positive.

Another subscriber to the earthclinic.com site reported that she applied black, brewed coffee to her grandson’s scalp before washing his hair and his cradle cap disappeared quickly. She felt it was because the brewed coffee had a similar consistency to vinegar.



A post shared by Go Ferment! (@goferment) on

Kombucha is a type of fermented tea, rich in probiotics and antioxidants and popular in the United States, where it can be found in health food stores.

Some parents find it effective in controlling cradle cap. So if you have a cradle cap case on your hands and nothing else works, this could be helpful. If you can get your hands on it, of course - I can get it down my local health food shop.



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Olive oil popular with subscribers to the earthclinic.com site, as are other oils.

Massage it gently into the scalp before washing with baby shampoo.

You could also try jojoba oil. Some parents report that jojoba oil was excellent for banishing their baby’s cradle cap when other remedies had failed or only had partial success.

Another popular option is virgin coconut oil. The purest form of coconut oil, known for its healing properties. Positive reports have come from many parents who have massaged their children’s scalps with this product before washing with baby shampoo.

So as you can see, there are a lot of home remedies for the condition. Some of these would have been passed down from generation to generation.

One thing is certain.

There is no ‘one size fits all’ remedy.

Some parents found certain cures very successful. Others would have tried the same cure and found different levels of success. Some parents ‘tried everything’ with varying degrees of success before finding that magical remedy. So it would be fair to say that finding the right natural remedy for your child might require a bit of experimenting on your part.

Prevention Is Better Than Cure

Lack of Sunlight

We parents are resourceful creatures. Every challenge we face with our kids goes into a treasure trove of experience which helps us and others in the future.

One mum in South Africa who contributed to myhomeremedies.com noticed that her first baby developed cradle cap when it was winter and the head got less sunlight.

So for subsequent babies, she always made sure they had a sun bath every day in winter along with oil massage, in a closed room with windows if the weather was cold.

This might be possible in South Africa but I can tell you for free that it's not going to work very well in a British winter. To be honest, I don't think it'd be worth trying in a British summer either.


Another mother noticed that her baby developed cradle cap in the dry humid climate in which she lived. Air conditioners and heating systems can also dry out the atmosphere so that babies with sensitive skin may develop cradle cap. Placing a humidifier in the baby’s room seems to help.

Daily Massage

Baby Massage by Valentina Powers https://www.flickr.com/photos/valentinap/129820098

Baby Massage by Valentina Powers https://www.flickr.com/photos/valentinap/129820098

In a lot of cultures, notably Indian and Pakistani, babies are given daily oil massages. This helps to keep the baby’s skin in good condition and improves circulation. It’s a good prevention measure for any kind of skin complaint.

Dr Sunita Singh from Lucknow, who was interviewed for this article, says that Indian paediatricians routinely recommend daily bathing and massage for infants.

Check The Baby’s Diet

If the baby is formula fed, it might be a good idea to check if the formula he’s taking is right for him. Talk to your paediatrician about switching to another formula and see if it makes a difference.

Keep Applying The Cure

If olive oil or apple cider did the trick for your baby when he had cradle cap, it’s probably a good idea to continue to apply it at regular intervals for prevention purposes.

See Your Baby's Doctor If...

When you first notice that dry, flaky scalp, there’s no need to rush to the doctor’s surgery. You can bring it to the doctor’s attention during the next check-up.

Meanwhile, make it a point to take whatever measures are available to you to treat the condition. Hopefully, by the time the next appointment rolls around, the condition will be under control.

However, if you notice that the scalp is very red and inflamed and if the baby seems to be very uncomfortable, then it could be eczema or another skin condition.

Cradle Cap Is Basically Harmless. But....

The trouble is, cradle cap is sometimes, understandably, confused with eczema. Although cradle cap is said to be painless, much like dandruff, eczema can get quite sore - and eczema probably won't go away on its own. In this case, I'd try to get it treated sooner rather than later.

Cradle Cap - Conclusion

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Information From All Over The Globe

We’ve explored a range of websites from everywhere and found some interesting and hopefully useful information.

Should you ever find yourselves dealing with cradle cap, here’s what to do:

  • Don’t panic, it's only dandruff (basically).
  • Check the child’s comfort level to ensure whether a doctor needs to be consulted immediately.
  • Try to figure out what’s been causing the problem (use our checklist of causes).
  • Use whatever natural method seems right to you and is locally available. Give it a few days to see if it works.
  • If the condition hasn’t cleared up before the next check-up, bring it up with the doctor on the next visit.

I hope you enjoyed reading this guide to cradle cap and that it will serve you well in the future. You’re welcome to bookmark it for future reference, and please share!


Dr Sunita Singh is an experienced paediatrician and family doctor from Lucknow in India. She studied for her paediatric diploma in the renowned King George Medical University (KGMU) in Lucknow.

For the last twenty years, she’s worked in an Indian government hospital and sees patients from across the social spectrum.

Influence Of Elders On Indian Baby Care

She hasn’t noticed that cradle cap is more common in any particular level of society. She told me, however, that parents from the less educated section of Indian society tend to rely heavily on the advice of elders in baby care matters.

So in the rainy season, when she and her colleagues are advising parents to bathe and massage their babies daily, the parents find their elders opposed to it. “They mistakenly think that too much bathing causes fever,” explains Dr Sunita.

Cradle Cap And Climate

She agrees that cradle cap is manageable, but advises parents to ensure it really is cradle cap and not something more serious. She also agrees that climate has a big influence on a baby’s condition. India has extreme climates and one can see the difference from one season to another.