My baby’s scalp is peeling. Is it dandruff?

If your baby’s scalp has flaky, dry skin that looks like dandruff, or thick, oily, yellowish or brown scaling or crusting patches, it’s probably cradle cap. Doctors call it infantile seborrheic dermatitis, and it’s very common.

This is a harmless contition that is very common in the first few months. On average it clears it self up within the first 12 months, but it sometimes takes longer. It is also common to notice the same symptoms around the baby’s ears or eyebrows. This can also happen in other areas of the body with creases (knees, armpits, etc).

What causes cradle cap?

Cradle cap is not caused by anything bad. It has nothing to do with hygiene or diet. The cause is actually unknown and is a common anomaly in newborns. It is also not contagious, so there is no concern when around other babies.

Some experts believe that the hormones a baby receives from his mother at the end of pregnancy overstimulate the baby’s oil-producing (seborrheic) glands, resulting in cradle cap. Irritation from a yeast that grows in the sebum (the substance produced by the glands) is also thought to be a possible culprit. But there’s no consensus on the cause.

How should I treat my baby’s cradle cap?

You don’t really need to do anything, but if it bothers you, here are some things to try:

Gently massage your baby’s scalp with your fingers or a soft brush to loosen the scales.

Shampoo more frequently (up to once a day), but be sure to rinse out all the soap or shampoo. After shampooing, gently brush your baby’s scalp with a soft brush or a terrycloth towel.

Some parents have had success using baby shampoos developed especially for cradle cap.

Can I use natural oils to treat my baby’s cradle cap?

If your baby has a stubborn case of cradle cap, an oil remedy might help to loosen dry flakes:

Rub a small amount of a pure, natural oil – such as almond or olive oil – on your baby’s scalp and leave it on for about 15 minutes.

Gently comb out the flakes with a fine-tooth comb or brush them out with a soft brush.

Wash your baby’s scalp with a gentle baby shampoo. The last thing you want to do is leave oil on your baby’s head, which could clog the pores and cause the flakes to stick. Try leaving the shampoo on for a few minutes before rinsing, to help cut the oil.

Should I take my baby to the doctor if he has cradle cap?

Talk with your baby’s doctor if the cradle cap is severe, if there is any bleeding, or if it spreads beyond your baby’s scalp.

The doctor may suggest an over-the-counter or prescription dandruff shampoo or, if the scalp is inflamed, a cortisone cream. Less commonly, if a yeast infection could be to blame, the doctor will recommend a topical antifungal medication.