Babies can also encounter specific skin problems. During the first few months after their birth, it is not uncommon to see thick patches, commonly referred to as "cradle cap", appear on their scalp or body. Learn more about this common and benign condition affecting approximately two-thirds of infants.
Everything you need to know about baby cradle cap.
- What is cradle cap?
- How can we explain the occurrence of baby cradle cap?
- How to prevent baby's cradle cap?
- How to remove baby's cradle cap?
What is cradle cap?
Cradle cap, or infantile seborrheic dermatitis, is characterized by crusty, slightly oily patches that are white to yellow in color and may be surrounded by redness. The name comes from their appearance, which somewhat resembles drops of milk. They most often appear on the scalp of infants, but can also affect the area behind the ears, the base of the eyelashes, and the eyebrows. Less commonly, infantile seborrheic dermatitis can spread to other parts of the body, such as the folds of the elbow or the diaper area.
This benign skin condition primarily affects very young infants, starting from their second week of life (before the age of 6 months), and usually disappears before the age of two or three years. Cradle cap is not contagious, and can be dry or oily. It often dries out within a few days and forms scales that naturally fall off. Cradle cap is thus superficial and can in this respect be compared to the dandruff in adults.
How can we explain the occurrence of baby cradle cap?
These oily and whitish patches are the result of an accumulation of dead cells on the skin's surface. They build up on the scalp due to an overproduction of sebum by the sebaceous glands. It appears that there is a certain genetic predisposition to the development of cradle cap, and babies who later have oily skin are more likely to be affected.
This overproduction of sebum is actually triggered by pregnancy hormones, such as estrogen and progesterone, which have not yet been fully eliminated from the baby's body. The sebum-rich environment then promotes the growth of the yeast Malassezia furfur, a microorganism that feeds on certain fatty acids present in the sebum and transforms them into irritating fatty acids. These in turn cause inflammation, resulting in abnormal shedding of dead cells.
How to prevent baby's cradle cap?
There are few ways to prevent the onset of baby cradle cap. However, dermatologists agree that paying close attention to infant hygiene is paramount. Indeed, to limit the formation of patches, it is recommended to clean their scalp every day with gentle care products, suitable for their delicate skin. You can also use a preventive shampoo against cradle cap, specifically formulated to combat excess sebum.
How to remove baby's cradle cap?
Baby milk crusts are harmless and often disappear on their own within a few days. To promote their removal, it is still recommended to apply vaseline on the patches two hours before the bath and to gently massage. This will soften the milk crusts and help them fall off during the bath.
Milk crusts can sometimes cause feelings of discomfort and itching. However, they should not be scratched, as this risks injuring the scalp and causing it to bleed. This could lead to skin irritation and infection. Finally, if the milk crusts do not disappear after two weeks of daily care, if they ooze or bleed, if the skin around appears swollen, or if your child seems too bothered by the itching, it is advisable to consult a pediatrician or your primary care physician.
PRIGENT F. Seborrheic dermatitis of infancy. Archives de Pédiatrie (2002).