Besides the joys of colic, reflux, and sleep deprivation – you and your new baby may also be faced with a case of cradle cap, or seborrhoeic dermatitis. Cradle cap looks like yellow or brown scales on your baby’s scalp. As it turns out, how you treat cradle cap can either make it worse or get rid of it completely.
Other places you might find traces of cradle cap:
- Around the ears
- At the brow line
- In the armpits
- Around the diaper area.
Cradle cap is incredibly common, showing up in over 70% of babies during their first 3 months of life. It isn’t painful or dangerous for your baby. And fortunately, most cases will clear up at around 4 – 6 months. But a stubborn case of cradle cap can last as long as 2 years and show up again during puberty.
The most common culprit is yeast
Your baby’s body home to trillions of microbes, like bacteria and yeast. For the most part, we harmoniously co-exist with these microscopic bugs. And many of them are essential in fortifying protective “barriers” – such as your baby’s:
- Digestive tract
Sometimes, a microbe goes rogue and begins to take over its environment. This is what happens in the case of cradle cap.
According to a review published in 2014 through the Cochrane Library, there is a solid link between cradle cap and the yeast, Malassezia. Which explains why cradle cap tends to improve with antifungal drugs.
It turns out that this particular yeast breaks down sebum (a waxy, oily substance secreted from the skin) and then consumes the fatty acids found in sebum. In particular, the saturated fatty acids – which are hard fats that you would find in coconut oil or ghee.
In a nutshell, the yeast Malassezia feeds on fat. And many home remedies – like olive oil, coconut oil, and shea butter – contain fat that feed the yeast. In fact, scientists often use olive oil in the lab to grow Malassezia.
So, what’s the best oil to use?
Elaine Siegfried, a medical doctor at St Louis University School of Medicine, explains
Saturated fatty acids likely encourage Malassezia overgrowth and excess unsaturated fatty acids may induce inflammation and scaling. As non-digestible oil, mineral oil may provide a triglyceride-free alternative to organic oils.
Mineral oil is a by-product of crude oil refinement, which is used to make gasoline and other petroleum products. And even though it has a slick and oily texture, it does not contain fat.
But it’s not without problems. While mineral oil is good for starving and softening colonies of Malassezia yeast, it doesn’t nourish or protect your baby’s skin. What’s more, it may interfere with the little ecosystem of good bacteria and yeast on your baby’s skin.
A natural alternative to mineral oil
I discovered a natural alternative to mineral oil when my second baby was around 6 months old. I tried putting some of my face oil on a stubborn patch of cradle cap and it immediately improved. After looking into the ingredients, a couple things stood out to me – something called squalane and an essential oil known as blue tansy.
Like mineral oil, squalane is known as “hydrocarbon.” It’s also a saturated hydrocarbon, which (like saturated fat) makes it really stable. Because it’s a stable lipid, squalane is pretty popular in the cosmetic industry.
The body naturally makes the precursor to squalane – known as squalene – and you can find it in sebum, produced by hair follicles. Yeast and bacteria living on the skin eat the fatty acids in sebum…but not the squalene.
Note: Squalane is not a fat. Even though it’s oily and used and an emollient, it’s a hydrocarbon without fatty acids. So it will not feed Malassezia yeast. And unlike mineral oil, squalane is 100% natural and safe.
My favorite product for cradle cap
At this point, my favorite oil for cradle cap is also one of my favorite things to put on my face: Herbivore’s Lapis Oil. It lists squalane as its first ingredient and it also uses blue tansy essential oil. The squalane used in Herbivore’s Lapis Oil is derived from amaranth seed.
Blue tansy is an essential oil that’s known to contain anti-fungal compounds. And according to some folks, blue tansy also nourishes the skin and controls the release of histamine.
How to get rid of cradle cap
- Massage oil into the scalp. Leave for 30 – 60 minutes.
- Loosen the scaly patches of cradle cap with a soft-bristle brush or a brush-comb combo like this.
- Shampoo with a gentle, non-toxic baby wash such as Earth Mama Angel Baby with anti-fungal lavender oil. You can also add 1 – 2 drops per ounce of blue tansy essential oil.