Just as you settle into your daily routine with your adorable newborn, you might notice some crusty, yellow or white, scale-like patches on their scalp. These patches might be underneath their hair, behind their ears, on their forehead, in skin folds, or even in their eyebrows.
But if you see it, don’t panic. Your baby didn’t get this from you not bathing them enough, or from anything else you think you did wrong.
It’s probably just a case of cradle cap. While harmless, it’s annoying. Here’s how coconut oil may help.
Will cradle cap hurt my baby?
Cradle cap is almost always harmless. It’s not contagious, and it doesn’t hurt your baby. It’s not even itchy, so if you don’t want to do anything about it, you don’t have to.
Still, lots of parents don’t like the look of yellow scales on their baby, so they want to get rid of it. One popular treatment they try is coconut oil.
Cradle cap, or crib cap, is officially called seborrheic eczema or seborrheic dermatitis. It’s the same thing that causes dandruff in adults.
It’s difficult to prevent cradle cap, as pediatricians aren’t exactly sure what causes it to begin with.
One theory is that it has something to do with the hormones that pass from you to your baby before they’re born. Those hormones can cause too much oil production in your baby’s oil glands and hair follicles.
Alternatively, it could have to do with a type of yeast called Malassezia, which grows within your baby’s hair.
But here’s the good news: Unlike the adult version, the condition doesn’t last forever in babies. It’s most common in newborns and babies under the age of 3 months, but it usually goes away on its own sometime between the ages of 6 months and 1 year.
Lots of parents swear by coconut oil as a natural treatment for cradle cap — though scientifically, the evidence is a little anecdotal.
Still, it’s true that coconut oil helps moisturize dry and flaky skin, which could loosen cradle cap flakes and nourish the skin on your baby’s scalp.
That’s why coconut oil is often used to reduce the symptoms of eczema. It’s also why it’s a common ingredient in skin moisturizers, soaps, and shampoos. Coconut oil likewise has natural antibacterial properties, which can help treat minor skin infections, too.
Unless your baby has an allergy to coconuts, coconut oil is safe.
Furthermore, don’t use coconut oil on your baby if there’s a family history of allergies to coconut oil.
If you use it, get virgin coconut oil. It’s natural because it comes straight from fresh coconuts and is less processed than other oils. This means it doesn’t usually have any added chemicals or perfumes that can irritate your newborn’s sensitive skin.
Here are some easy steps to follow:
- Give your baby their normal bath using warm water.
- Take them out of the bath and wrap them in a towel so they don’t get cold.
- Warm a small amount of coconut oil in a bowl, then test it on the inside of your wrist to make sure it isn’t too hot.
- Apply a thin layer of coconut oil to your baby’s scalp and gently massage the oil in for about a minute or so. (Just be careful around their soft spot).
- Let the oil soak in for 10 to 15 minutes.
- Then, return your baby to the bath and wash the oil out of their hair with a gentle baby shampoo.
When using coconut oil on your baby, ensure you’re doing the following to be as safe as possible:
- Make sure you buy the best — and purest — virgin coconut oil you can find. Double check the ingredients to make sure it’s pure. You don’t want any added chemicals or dyes on your newborn’s skin.
- Wash your hands before touching your baby’s cradle cap. If you accidentally aggravate their scalp, you could let germs get in.
- If you notice any skin reaction after using the oil, stop immediately. Your baby could have a coconut allergy, symptoms of which include hives or a rash. Your little one might also wheeze, throw up, get diarrhea, or have an anaphylactic reaction (though that’s very rare). If your baby develops severe symptoms, seek medical help right away.
- Don’t use too much. Using too much can make it difficult to get it out of their hair, and you don’t want to have to scrub your baby’s head too hard to get all the oil off. Using a small amount will also allow you to check whether it causes any irritation or an allergic reaction.
There are a few other things you can do for cradle cap, including:
- Wash your baby’s hair often with gentle baby shampoo. Poor hygiene doesn’t cause cradle cap, but washing their hair can help clear it faster, as it’ll help remove some of the scales and prevent excess buildup. Yet, washing baby’s hair too often can dry out their skin and worsen cradle cap, so consult your pediatrician about how often to bathe them.
- Brush their hair after a bath with a soft brush. This can also help prevent buildup by gently removing some of the scales. Just make sure to brush slowly in one direction, and stop if their scalp becomes red or agitated.
- Use olive oil on their scalp. This works similarly to coconut oil by providing a moisture barrier for your baby’s scalp.
- Try special baby shampoo designed to help with cradle cap. Before using these though, run the ingredients by your pediatrician to make sure nothing is too harsh for your newborn’s sensitive skin. Adult strength dandruff shampoos, for example, can be toxic when absorbed through an infant’s skin.
- See whether your pediatrician recommends further treatment. With more severe cases of cradle cap, their healthcare provider might prescribe an antifungal, hydrocortisone, or zinc cream. However, never use these without a prescription.
Don’t use hydrogen peroxide, undiluted apple cider vinegar, or essential oils without a healthcare provider’s guidance. These can irritate and worsen cradle cap.
Finally, never scratch or pick at the cradle cap rash. This can cause irritation — or worse, an infection.
Cradle cap isn’t very pretty, but it’s almost always harmless and will go away eventually. So if you’ve tried a lot of at-home remedies — including coconut oil — and nothing seems to work, don’t despair.
If you’re particularly worried, though, talk with your pediatrician. In some rare cases, cradle cap can lead to a fungal infection, but if it does, they’ll prescribe your baby a cream to help.