Updated October 2018
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Just before birth, mom’s hormones cross into the placenta, which causes a hyper-activation of sebaceous glands in baby’s skin. These glands produce a greasy substance that acts like glue, preventing dead skin cells from falling off like they normally would. In babies, skin cells on the scalp already grow much faster than they can be shed, which further exacerbates the problem.
The result is a layer of dead, crusty (and sometimes greasy-looking) skin, which we affectionately call cradle cap.
Cradle cap can manifest a few different ways: On my girls, it looked like yellowish, scaly dandruff. It can also look greasy, crusty, or even weeping. My friend’s poor little bald, crusty-headed baby had it so bad, he looked like something out of Star Trek. As another friend commented, “Ewww, what the hell is that on his head?” (Guess who wasn’t invited to the bris??? Oh, smack.)
While cradle cap is usually found on the scalp, it can also creep down onto the face to the eyebrows and around the ears. It usually rears its ugly head sometime in the first couple of months of life and can linger and recur until the end of the first year.
The good news is that it’s completely harmless. The bad news is that it takes a long time to go away without intervention. Some may prefer to do nothing and wait for it to slough off on its own (which is perfectly fine). Others of us are compulsively driven to pick it off like a mother gorilla.
Your best remedy can be found in your own kitchen pantry: olive oil (you can also use baby oil or coconut oil). To eliminate the scaly fish-head, simply do the following:
1. Wet baby’s hair and rub a small amount of olive oil onto the scalp and wait 10-20 minutes for it to soak in.
2. Gently scrape the scales off using a soft toothbrush, a dry washcloth, or even your fingernails. Feel the gratification as you peel away the gunk.
3. Wash the oil out with baby shampoo, which may require a few iterations. *This is very important; leaving the oil in too long can cause a rash.
You may need to do this over the course of a few sessions if it’s extra stubborn. If the scalp becomes red or inflamed, a small amount of over-the-counter cortisone cream may help as well.
If it just won’t go away or recurs frequently, you can try Mustela Foam Shampoo for Newborns, which is a great shampoo anyway, and will help with the cradle cap.
If cradle cap does not respond rapidly to these treatments, be sure to tell your pediatrician.
That’s it. That’s all I’ve got. What, you want funny stuff? Alright, alright:
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