Cradle cap is a form of seborrheic dermatitis, a minor inflammatory disease of the scalp, face, and occasionally other areas of the body. It is a common scalp problem in infants and younger children.
Cradle cap appears as thick, oily yellowish or brownish patches on the skin, particularly the scalp. It is also often found around the eyebrows, around the nose, behind the ears, and in the genital area. The skin itself often appears to be red, flaky, and irritated underneath the oily patches. It most often effects children who are between two weeks and two years old. Although cradle cap may be unsightly, it is usually not harmful to the child.
Causes & symptoms
During infancy and early childhood, the glands that produce sweat and oil are in a highly reactive state. Cradle cap is most likely due to a buildup of sweat and oil produced by these overactive glands. This buildup may also cause an irritation of the skin. Sometimes an over-growth of the yeast called Pityrosporum ovale may also contribute to the condition. Occasionally, cradle cap is a symptom of more serious problems.
Cradle cap is easily recognizable, and usually it requires no further diagnosis. However, if the rash seems to be very itchy or irritating, it may be necessary to rule out eczema. If there are additional symptoms, a health-care provider should be consulted for a physical exam and possible testing.
Most remedies for cradle cap can be applied directly to the oily patches on the skin. Tannins, for example, can help to slow down oil production, as well as clear away the cradle cap. Warm caffeinated tea, German chamomile tea (Matricaria recutita), burdock tea (Arctium lappa), or diluted witch hazel extract (Hamamelis virginiana,) can be rubbed into the skin with a cloth several times per day.
A comfrey rinse can also be used. It should be rubbed onto the affected area with a washcloth. The rinse can be used after shampooing or bathing, or it can be applied to dry skin. This treatment can be given nightly for up to ten days until the symptoms are gone. The comfrey rinse can be made by boiling two ounces (about 57 grams) of comfrey root, Symphytum officinale, in one quart (or one liter) of water. The tea should be simmered for 20 minutes and then allowed to cool. A batch of the comfrey rinse can be used and stored in the refrigerator for up to four days.
A rule of thumb in science is that like dissolves like; therefore, any type of food grade oil can be used to dis-solve
Slippery elm (Ulmus fulva) is useful in soothing a variety of skin problems, and can be applied to affected areas several times per day. The herb can also be misted liberally with water or used as a tea. Ointments containing Calendula offinalis or plantain (Plantago major) are also appropriate to use on areas of cradle cap. These herbs can often clear up an outbreak in as little as four days.
Internal remedies for cradle cap can be quite effective. These include tincture of burdock root, which can help to balance oil and sweat production. Burdock is also a good general tonic to take to keep the skin healthy. Burdock should be given for at least three weeks for full effect. A tincture of the wild pansy flower, Viola tricolor, can also be given. Biotin, a B vitamin, works well for cradle cap and can be given at dosages of 10 micrograms (mcg) for age 0-6 months; 15 mcg for age 6-12 months, and 20 mcg for age one to three years.
Generally, cradle cap does not need to be treated medically. If the condition is resistant to treatment or it starts spreading, however, an over-the-counter dandruff shampoo may be used once per day until the cradle cap has improved. Shampoos containing coal tar derivatives may be highly irritating and are not recommended for use on children under two.
A 0.5% or 1% hydrocortisone cream is available over-the-counter and can be applied two or three times per day to stubborn cases of cradle cap. If a Pityrosporum ovale infection is suspected, a dermatologist may prescribe ketoconazole (Nizoral) cream or shampoo. These medications are strong and should be used for as short a time as possible.
If crusting, pus, redness, or pain are present, a physician should be consulted. There may be an underlying infection caused by the infant's scratching, which can introduce bacteria into the skin. Antibiotics may have to be prescribed. Other symptoms, such as poor growth or diarrhea may point to immune system problems requiring medical assessment and treatment.
Usually cradle cap will eventually resolve with no aftereffects, even without treatment. However, it can take
quite some time to clear. Most home remedies should clear up cradle cap in a few weeks or months.
Washing the hair more often than two or three times per week may dry the skin out, making it more vulnerable to cradle cap, so limited hair washing is recommended.
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Kemper, Kathi J., M.D. The Holistic Pediatrician. New York: HarperPerennial, 1996.
DermaMed Pharmaceutical Incorporated. http://www.dermamed.com/aboutscalp.htm (January 17, 2001).
Health World Online. http://www.healthy.net/asp/templates/book.asp?PageType=Book&ID=787 (January 17, 2001).