I was surprised to see the scaly looking yellow flakes on his scalp after I noticed him scratching the top of his head an unusual amount. Isn't cradle cap for babies? But this was unmistakable. After looking it up in a few books, my hunch proved right.
What is cradle cap?
Cradle cap is yellow or orange colored scaly, flaky skin on the scalp, usually on the top of the head rather than the sides or back. It sometimes falls off in large peelings of skin. Cradle cap is caused by an overproduction of sebum, or natural oils, in response to a change of environment.
Typically we see this in infants, as the total change of climate from cosy mama belly to big outside world can be rather shocking on the skin. Baby acne, cradle cap, sensitivity, all these are pretty normal in infants. Adults tend not to suffer from the same scaly appearance on the scalp. Head hair and far greater maturity and immunity in the body all help to prevent that, besides which, most western adults tend to treat over-production of scalp sebum by over-washing their hair, which doesn't really help the situation but does help to exfoliate and remove the flaking skin regularly.
My son recently had a 5-day fever. Poor kiddo. He ended up requiring antibiotics for a bacterial infection and is now doing very well, but fevers are drying. We have been applying Rapha Salve to his chapped cheeks and lips, and adding coconut oil to his baths to help moisturize his skin and also his hair. But since he does actually have hair, I suspect his scalp did not receive quite so much nourishing oily TLC as it would have preferred, and certainly not as much oil from splashing in a bath as a more bald child would have had. (You see, he doesn't like his hair being cut, and since he has lovely golden curls, we keep it trimmed around his eyes so that he can see without bother, and the rest of it is growing long. At the moment, it is all right about collar length but he's asked to grow it longer. I don't mind at all.)
How can I treat cradle cap?
I did some reading up in several different books, as well as cross checking with online sources provided by certified herbalists. Lavender is cited in several places, but even more sources suggest that lavender essential oil is too strongly stimulating for infants and young children, although for older children and adults it can be very helpful in correct dilutions. Geranium and eucalyptus herb and essential oil are both a repeated theme. Based on that, I have two massage oil suggestions for you to try. We used the first and it worked very well.
One. This recipe comes from Valerie Ann Worwood's book:
- 2 Tbs (6 tsp) gentle base oil, such as almond or apricot kernel, but avoid heavy olive oil for infants
- 1 drop eucalyptus essential oil
- 1 drop geranium essential oil
Two. An alternative is to infuse dried lavender flowers into a mild base oil. Not essential oil, as again that can prove too strong, but to make an infused herbal oil. You can find directions for herbal oils in the above Rapha Salve link.
Infants. Massage the scalp gently with your oil of choice. Be very careful not to massage the fontanelle, the soft spot where the skull is not fully closed on the very top of the head. You can carefully smooth a little oil over it with a cotton ball but do not apply any pressure. Allow the oil to penetrate the skin for 30 minutes or so. Use a damp washcloth to stroke dead skin cells from the scalp. Rinse head with body temperature water. Avoid using shampoo or soap as this can aggravate the problem further, causing the body to think it still needs more sebum secreted onto the scalp. Apply the cradle cap oil twice daily until the flaking skin settles down. Apply as needed for maintenance thereafter.
Young children. Massage the scalp gently with your oil of choice. Allow the oil to penetrate the skin for 30 minutes or so. Use a comb to part the hair, working in small sections over the top of the head, and gently stroke brush the scalp and hair with a soft boar-bristle hairbrush. Do not press, just stroke. Keep working in sections until the whole affected area has been covered. Rinse well with running water to remove loose skin flakes from the length of the hair. Again, avoid using shampoo or soap too often with children. Once or twice monthly sudsing of the scalp is usually sufficient for children under the age of 12, although a finger massage with conditioner and/or running water is perfectly fine daily or every other day.