What is cradle cap?
Cradle cap, or seborrhoeic dermatitis, looks like yellow or brown scales on your baby’s scalp.
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.
What causes cradle cap?
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.
Many home remedies – like olive oil, coconut oil, and shea butter – contain fat that feed the yeast. In fact, scientists use olive oil in the lab to grow Malassezia.
The best oil for cradle cap
Elaine Siegfried, a medical doctor at St Louis University School of Medicine, explains that the best oil for cradle cap isn’t a traditional oil.
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 cradle cap treatment that works
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, which naturally fights yeast.
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 stable, 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.
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.
If you want to use only pure squalane, you can.
How to get rid of cradle cap
- Massage squalane into the scalp. Leave for 10 – 30 minutes.
- Loosen the scaly patches of cradle cap with a soft-bristle brush or a brush-comb combo like this.
- Shampoo with a gentle baby wash such as Earth Mama or Baja Baby.