Cradle Cap: Naturally Prevent or Eliminate It

Cradle Cap is one of those things that can sneak up on us mamas, especially when we’re newbies. We’re so busy figuring out the whole nursing, sleep deprivation, diaper changing and how-to-decipher-baby’s-cry that we might not even notice till there’s a strange little crust on baby’s sweet head. Gross, right? Well, it’s not surprising they get it considering how many hands are touching and rubbing them and how many lips are kissing them constantly. Fortunately, cradle cap can be resolved naturally and easily if you know what to do.

First a little info. According to one of my favorite baby doctor authors, Dr. William Sears, cradle cap is seborrheic dermatitis. It can result from oil buildup, hormones and even fungal activity. Not what you want on your little baby, right? He suggests using a dandruff shampoo to deal with it. But if you’re like me, you might not want to use something so harsh on your little treasure. We have a much gentler, less toxic way of handling it at my house!

Ready??? Here it is.

Coconut oil. Yep. This stuff is magic.

While it’s true that you can use other oils like olive oil to follow this process, coconut oil is special. First, it’s a fairly dry oil, meaning it won’t leave a greasy residue behind when you put it on your little one. Don’t want to mess up all those darling clothes you’re dressing him or her in, right? Second, coconut has anti-fungal properties. So if your little sweetheart’s cradle cap has progressed into a little fungal problem, it will help resolve the issue more quickly.

Here’s what we use:

  • Coconut oil – Trader Joe’s organic oil is cheap and lasts a long time!
  • Mild shampoo – We use TJ’s Tea Tree oil shampoo for our whole fam. Tea tree oil is also anti-fungal and smells fresh!
  • Baby comb
  • Baby brush

*This really isn’t a commercial for Trader Joe’s. But, we like these products because while they’re not perfect, they’re fairly healthy for a reasonable price and mild enough for a baby. We don’t like to use harsh chemicals (sodium laurel sulfate, parabens and DEA’s etc) like those you’ll find in most “gentle” baby shampoos.

Here’s what we do:

***I choose a time when my baby is relaxed and happy – like right after a feeding. I connect with my little person during this process, looking straight into his eyes and smiling. Then I use a gentle, quiet voice to tell him what I’m doing. It is a calming and enjoyable time for us both.***

1. I pour a little coconut oil in my hand and gently apply to the baby’s head, massaging into skin without dripping it all over him. The idea is to connect with him so he can relax. If cradle cap has spread down onto the face, I apply the oil there as well, being careful to avoid the eyes. I pay special attention to eyebrows, behind ears and around the nose.

2. After I let the oil soak in for a few minutes I use a soft baby brush to gently massage my baby’s scalp, loosening the cradle cap as much as I can without distressing the baby. If it were severe, I would use a comb instead to gently scrape the crust off the baby’s head.

3. Next, I hop into the shower with my little person to remove the dead skin and oil. I gently apply shampoo onto the head and massage again with the baby brush. Not only is this relaxing for my baby but it will remove more of the cradle cap if I didn’t get it all the first time.

4. I carefully rinse my baby’s head, using a washcloth to wash his eyebrows, around his nose and ears and to keep soap from getting in his eyes.

5. After my baby is happily bundled and diapered (don’t want to have to shower again!), I give him a big smile and ask if he’d like a little massage. Then I apply a bit more coconut oil on that little head and rub it in gently. I actually use it all over my baby and he chuckles and smiles the whole time.

If a baby has severe cradle cap, it may take a  few passes to get all the crunchy stuff off his or her head. If it’s severe, no need to traumatize a baby to get it all off at once. Some consistent work – a few days in a row should get it all. Once it’s off, continuing to bath a baby regularly and apply the coconut oil works great to prevent cradle cap from re-occuring.

I used this method with my earlier babies and had great success. However, it’s possible to avoid cradle cap completely (as I did with my last!) by using coconut oil and bathing baby regularly to prevent it from building up in the first place. Coconut oil has been the perfect massage and moisturizing oil for our babies.

Just one more way to naturally prevent or treat a normal baby issue from the Organic Mama Cafe.

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Comments

  1. says

    At the time my babies were little and before coconut oil became a popular remedy for skin issues I always oiled my babies all over with baby oil as that was what was out there and then use a soft nail brush and brushed their scalp. The baby brush wasn't sturdy enough to loosen up the loose skin on the scalp. I bathed my babies evey day and oiled them down after their baths. Never had any skin issues or cradle cap – learned this from my grandma.

    • Monna says

      Kathy – the nail brush seems like it would be the perfect texture to handle cradle cap! I agree that a baby brush doesn’t work for actual cradle cap, just a preventative measure. With this baby, I just oiled him from the beginning like you suggested. He never got cradle cap either. I guess third time’s the charm! :) Thanks for the suggestion.

    • Monna says

      Great point, Terry. Although that is possible, I consider is a much safer alternative to the heavily marketed “baby” “tearless” shampoos out there that contain chemicals I don’t want to put on my kids or me!

      When we wash our little one’s hair, we always rub a little on his head and then carefully remove it with a washcloth. We’ve never gotten any in his eyes but I have gotten it in mine and washed it out easily and painlessly.

      Thanks for a great reminder!

  2. Farha says

    The coconut oil did not work so well for getting the scales off my babies head–not emollient enough, I am guessing–although the majority of what I’ve heard in terms of crust removal has recommend either baby oil, olive oil or coconut oil. What has worked a miracle for me is shea butter. It goes on and has to be worked in. It’s kind of like lard in texture. Once in the cradle cape easily surrenders under rubbing finger pads. Then, it’s dreamy to remove. Thanks for the Tea tree oil tip for keeping the cradle cap off.

    • Monna says

      Hi Farha, thanks for the feedback! You know, I never had to use it to remove much cradle cap but several of my friends did. I would imagine if the cradle cap were severe you might need something more emollient. It’s great to get more ideas from mamas who use natural methods. :)

  3. Sara Gage Danks says

    Just used the coconut oil and a burp cloth to wipe the cradle cap clean – with some gentle scrubbing it came right off! Thanks for the tip! I use coconut oil for cooking, never realized it was so versatile!

    • Monna says

      Yay! So glad it helped, Sara! Not only do we use coconut oil for cradle cap, I use it for moisturizer and as part of my salve for eczema. It’s awesome stuff.

  4. cheryl says

    Ive been using coconut oil the whole time i tried baby oil first but it seemed to spread the cradle cap. My son gets really big flakes i changed shampoos as well to dove for sensitive skin the first night i used it the next day it seemed to work but i always put the coconut oil on and it seemed to make it worse. Throughout the day im soaking his head with a cloth and putting coconut oil on and brushing his head but it seems like it doesnt help by the next day his head is full of flakes again. Do you know of any other remedies? and ive been trying this befor i read your article here, im trying to find another way to make this go away. Thanx of you can help

    • says

      Hi Cheryl. It’s hard to say since I haven’t seen your son’s hair. But I can tell you that cradle cap is a fungal thing so it will grow if you don’t stay on top of it. That said, it’s not something to feel bad about. A lot of babies get it. After all, we can’t resist touching their heads! :)

      If you’re seeing more flakes when you put on the coconut oil, it’s likely that it’s softening up the scale and it’s flaking off. Gross, I know but it’s totally normal.

      Here’s what I’d do if my baby had a pronounced case of cradle cap.
      1. Use a baby comb to gently massage the scalp in small areas till the cradle cap loosens.
      2. Use a washcloth to rub some Trader Joe’s tea tree oil shampoo onto his head and really massage it in. **Tea tree oil is also anti-fungal.
      3. Gently rub a little more coconut oil onto my baby’s head. It doesn’t have to be soaked but it’s there to moisturize.
      4. Add more coconut oil throughout the day and work on it with a baby brush or the comb when we have quiet moments. I’d be careful not to scratch or irritate his head.

      I’d personally avoid dove because while it might be “sensitive” for some people, it might not work for others. I like TJ’s shampoo because it doesn’t contain SLS.

      It should work but it takes consistency to get rid of an advanced case of cradle cap. I’d wash his head daily until it resolves itself.

    • says

      Hi Charity. I’ll agree with you that there are a few ingredients in the TJ’s shampoo that don’t rate perfectly on the ewg scale. However, a lot of my readers still use Johnson and Johnson. So, I consider a TJ’s options a step up from that, esp for people on a budget.
      Do you have a favorite reasonably priced natural shampoo? Love it when my readers offer positive options to each other!

  5. Meg R says

    Just tried coconut oil on my 7 week old daughter- worked so well!! Massaged it on the scales, let it sit a bit, then used a soft toothbrush. Thanks so much for the great article :)

    • says

      Hi Sheron. I agree. Tea tree is great for fungal issues. However, the reason I only use a tea tree shampoo (it’s worked for us and is less chemical than commercially marketed baby shampoos) and not the oil is that I consider it unnecessarily strong for a baby. Everyone has their fave but I tend away from straight up tea tree on baby skin.

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