Q: My 8-month-old baby girl has the most unsightly dry flakes all over her scalp. Her hair is getting longer and starting to hide it, but I’m worried because it doesn’t seem to be going away. My mother-in-law tells me it’s cradle cap, but I always thought cradle cap was scaly yellow patches, not just flakes. What is it and are there any natural ways to get rid of it?

A: I know you’re not going to like hearing this, but in this case, your mother-in-law is right. Cradle cap, known in the medical world as infantile seborrheic dermatitis, is basically baby dandruff. It can manifest itself in any number of ways, from dry flakes to what you described as “scaly yellow patches.” Though definitely not pretty, cradle cap is not harmful to your baby and, if left untreated, will most likely resolve itself eventually. But what do you do if it doesn’t resolve itself after a few months or if you sense that it may be starting to make your little one itch? Here's how you can treat it.

Dr. Paul Sirna, a pediatrician in Verona, N.J., says most cradle cap remedies aim to agitate the dry flakes off the scalp and then replenish hydration to the area. You could use an anti-dandruff shampoo on your baby, he says, like Head & Shoulders or Selsun Blue, and after a couple of treatments, the cradle cap should disappear. Be careful not to get any shampoo in baby’s eyes, though, if you go this route.

Another option is castile soap or a little bit of diluted tea tree oil. “These are probably less harmful than using an anti-dandruff shampoo,” Sirna says. Just rub a little in your baby’s scalp, leave on for a while, and then gently comb out the flakes. They should come right out. Again, before you try this option, even though it’s a more natural one, be sure to test out the product you’re using on a small area of your child’s skin first to make sure it doesn’t act as an irritant. If you’re going this route, it might be helpful to sit your baby on your lap facing out, lean her back onto your shirt (and maybe cover yourself with a towel), and massage the soap or tea tree oil in. Then, gently comb out the flakes while she’s watching television or something else equally distracting.

If you don’t have castile soap or tea tree oil on hand, you can also try olive oil (though if you don’t cook much, you may not have that either). I have a friend who tried an olive oil remedy on her baby’s cradle cap, after doing a few Google searches on the subject. She gently rubbed the olive oil into her baby’s scalp, let it sit for 20 minutes, and then combed out the flakes. After two treatments like this, the cradle cap was virtually gone. And she also mentioned that her baby’s hair was even silkier smooth than it was before.

Don’t worry, though. That cradle cap will be gone soon enough and all you’ll have left is your beautiful baby’s chubby smiling face to look at. And there’s nothing unsightly about that.

Photo: Jupiterimages

What is cradle cap, and how do you fix it?
Everything from dandruff shampoo to olive oil can be used to treat this unsightly yet harmless condition.