It’s no secret that babies have soft, delicate skin that’s prone to a wide variety of relatively harmless conditions — even if you’re doing all the right things in terms of bathing and protecting your little one.
So rest assured, if your baby is dealing with cradle cap, it’s not a statement about your parenting abilities! This somewhat unsightly dermatological condition might be embarrassing, but it’s also incredibly common.
So, what is cradle cap? Why does it sometimes appear on baby’s eyebrows, and how can you banish those flakes? Read on to learn more.
Cradle cap is a common term used for seborrheic dermatitis, or a skin rash that specifically appears on a baby’s scalp. However, cradle cap can also extend to other areas, including the eyebrows.
It’s a noninfectious skin condition that often occurs in infants. Cradle cap can appear as early as a few weeks after birth and tends to disappear within a few months.
Going off the name “cradle cap,” parents may assume their baby has atopic dermatitis (a type of eczema and a common skin condition) if they notice patches on their little one’s eyebrows or forehead.
But unlike other skin rashes such as eczema, cradle cap doesn’t cause discomfort like itchy skin.
Along with the scalp, areas where cradle cap might appear include baby’s:
- back of the neck
- skin folds
- diaper area
The condition does have telltale symptoms, such as:
- patchy scales
- oily or dry skin with flaky white or yellow scales
- skin flakes
Experts still don’t know what specifically causes cradle cap, let alone on your little one’s eyebrows.
But theories center around the possibility that hormones may pass from the birthing parent to the baby before they’re born. This may lead to excessive oil (sebum) production in the hair follicle’s oil glands.
Another theory proposes that yeast known as Malassezia, which grows in sebum, may cause the condition to occur.
Cradle also cap tends to run in the family, which can make a baby more predisposed to experience the condition.
Knowing that cradle cap isn’t painful and tends to clear up on its own is a relief, but it’s only natural that you’d want your baby’s face to be flake-free.
Along with practicing patience, there are a few at-home treatment options available to you to (possibly) help speed things up.
Use a gentle baby shampoo
It’s tempting to think that cradle cap is a sign of skin irritation and that you shouldn’t wash baby’s hair or face as frequently. However, the reverse is true.
Cradle cap is thought to be caused by overactive oil glands. So, leaving your baby’s face and hair unwashed will slow recovery.
Use a mild, tear-free, and baby-safe body wash or shampoo on the affected area, whether it’s the eyebrows, forehead, or scalp.
Massage the area
While you’re cleaning baby’s face, use a gentle washcloth to massage the skin under and around their eyebrows. Doing this will help loosen any flaky skin or scales. Avoid scrubbing at their skin, however.
Moisturize with a pre-poo treatment
Depending on the severity of your baby’s eyebrow cradle cap, you might need to apply a gentle oil to their brows before you wash their face. This is because the scales or flakes may be too thick or hard to come off with just soap and water alone.
To do this, apply a plant oil like jojoba, coconut, or almond oil to your baby’s brows and massage it in. (Avoid using olive oil, which can irritate the skin.)
Let the oil sit for 15 minutes to help soften the flakes or scales. This way, when you wash and massage your baby’s face, they’ll come off easier.
Just remember: You don’t want to leave the oil on your baby’s face. Doing so can make cradle cap worse because the oil will block their glands.
Brush your baby’s brows
If your baby has flakes or scales on their brows, this tip might be useful. Just like you brush your baby’s hair every day (if they have hair!), you’ll want to brush their eyebrows to help loosen and remove flakes.
Remember to be gentle and use a soft-bristled brush once per day. In many cases, you can find baby brushes specifically designed for cradle cap that are intended to be gentle and prevent irritation.
Try baby-safe anti-dandruff products
Cradle cap is often placed into the same category as dandruff for treatment solutions. But using adult-strength anti-dandruff products on your baby isn’t advised: These items usually contain the active ingredient pyrithione zinc, which is too strong for your baby’s skin.
As an alternative, plenty of baby-safe balms and shampoos have been designed to specifically lift scales and flakes while also helping to moisturize baby’s skin — without clogging their oil glands.
It can be frustrating to see your baby’s beautiful face covered in cradle cap scales. What’s most important is that for the most part, cradle cap isn’t infectious and can’t be passed between babies.
But take heart that the condition is almost always temporary.
Cradle cap usually appears between 2 to 6 weeks after birth and clears up within a few months, and it rarely extends beyond infancy. However, there have been cases where children continue to experience it through age 2 or 3.
Talk with your child’s pediatrician if you’re concerned
While most cases of cradle cap can be managed at home, in a few cases you’ll want to talk with baby’s doctor. Make an appointment if:
- Your baby’s cradle cap gets worse after at-home treatment or lasts beyond 12 months of age.
- You notice the cradle cap is draining pus or fluid.
- Crusts begin to form.
- The condition is causing discomfort to your little one.
Usually, a physician will prescribe medications for more serious cases of cradle cap. And in some cases, they may prescribe antibiotics if it’s found that your baby’s skin is infected.
Treatments usually include medicated creams or shampoos.
As a parent, it’s easy to feel guilty every time your baby gets sick or their skin gets irritated. It’s important to remember not to beat yourself up — nothing you did (or didn’t do!) caused cradle cap to appear on their eyebrows or elsewhere.
Patience and a gentle baby skin care routine are the best things you can do to help your little one’s skin clear up.
But if your baby’s cradle cap doesn’t resolve before 12 months of age or worsens with at-home treatment, contact their pediatrician.