You may associate dandruff with adults wearing unfortunate black turtlenecks or hiding their special blue shampoo bottles in the shower. The truth is, even children as young as toddler-aged can suffer from dandruff, too.
Dandruff even has an official scientific name called pityriasis capitis or seborrheic dermatitis. But it also appears to be a rather puzzling condition in the medical community, with no one clear cause.
A review of the available studies on dandruff points to different causes like fungus, or a certain type of yeast called Malassezia, a genetic predisposition to extra "scaliness" of the skin, hormone fluctuations, or even just a sensitive scalp.
As the Cleveland Clinic points out, dandruff in adults is really just another form of seborrheic dermatitis, which occurs as the infamous "cradle cap" in infants. Most commonly, cradle cap occurs in infants 0 to 3 months old and clears up on its own by 1 year old. But the condition may persist into toddlerhood, leading you with the unique predicament of figuring out how on earth to treat a toddler with dandruff. To help you figure it out, here are five home remedies for treating toddler dandruff.
1. Bathing less often
When our baby showed signs of "baby dandruff," which was actually cradle cap, we found that decreasing the frequency of her baths actually helped tremendously.
Our pediatrician explained that in many instances, parents overbathe their babies, leading to skin problems. And in some cases, shampoo or baby wash can build up on their scalps. Instead of bathing her every night, we decreased the frequency to every other day, or more if we could stretch it. We noticed a dramatic decrease in the amount of "dandruff" she had.
Research suggests that overshampooing has been found to be a contributing factor to dandruff. Decreasing the frequency of your baby's bath, or simply skipping shampoo when they bathe, should be your first line of action in combatting dandruff in toddlers.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) notes that cradle cap, or "dandruff," in babies is very common and that in some cases, a gentle exfoliation may be appropriate to help shed the scalp of excess skin. The AAP instructs parents that they can loosen any scales or excess skin on the scalp with a soft bristle brush while the toddler is in the bath.
First, apply a small amount of gentle baby shampoo and massage it into the scalp, then exfoliate with the soft bristle brush. You will literally see the skin coming off in scales or yellowish "chunks." Gross, I know, but it's also strangely fascinating. You'll want to be extra careful to not nick or break the skin in any way, as you could open the skin barrier up and allow bacteria to get in and cause an infection.
My husband and I also found that the small comb that the hospital sends home with your newborn was an extremely effective way to remove the small scales or dandruff-causing excess skin. It would run right along the top of the scalp and lift those scales up, but it was still small and gentle enough that it didn't hurt our daughter at all.
3. Mineral oil
The AAP also notes that if those scales are "stubborn" even with exfoliation, rubbing a few drops of mineral or baby oil onto the scalp and letting it sit for a few minutes before brushing and shampooing the child's hair might be helpful.
An overly dry scalp can contribute to dandruff, so making sure your toddler's head is well-hydrated with baby oil or even an all natural baby lotion might help keep the dandruff at bay. Since dandruff is technically a skin condition that can affect other parts of the body as well, you might want to inspect your toddler's skin, especially skin folds and chest, and keep those areas well-moisturized too.
4. Dandruff shampoo
In some situations, if the dandruff persists, the AAP recommends speaking to your baby's pediatrician about actually trying an over-the-counter or even a prescription dandruff shampoo. In some cases, a gentle steroid lotion may also be prescribed.
5. Tea tree oil
A study found that shampoo containing 5 percent tea tree oil might be an effective treatment against dandruff. However, because the individuals in that study were all over 14 years old, you will want to use extra caution in applying essential oils to your toddler's scalp. If you do use essential oils, be sure to dilute them and purchase and use from a licensed and trained professional.
If your home remedies for dandruff in toddlers don't yield any results, or your toddler's scalp becomes reddened or more painful, be sure to speak to your health care provider.
In some instances, if the dandruff is associated with other symptoms like diarrhea, there may also be an immunodeficiency present, so it's important to rule out any other medical conditions.