After moving back to the United States, I was surprised to find that there may be slightly different attitudes towards cradle cap (seborrheic dermatitis) between pediatricians in Asia versus pediatricians in the States. My child’s pediatrician in the US seemed quite relaxed and unperturbed. He simply said the cradle cap may be present until one year of age, and that I can choose to do nothing, apply a bit of oil, or use some special shampoo. On the other hand, the pediatrician in Singapore that saw my baby at the one month check-up appointment was quite concerned and immediately chided me for not having started treating her cradle cap. I didn’t even know until then that my baby had cradle cap!

Here in the United States, there is a plethora of advice and suggested treatments for cradle cap. These include leaving it alone, applying mineral oil a few hours before bathtime, or using specialized paraben-free cradle cap treaments. Some experts recommend scrubbing the scalp with an antidandruff shampoo [preferably one containing selenium sulphide (Selsun) or zinc pyrithione], or even using mild over-the-counter topical steroid creams like hydrocortisone (0.5%). Of course the treatment needed may depend on the severity of the baby’s cradle cap.

My child’s pediatrician in Singapore, however, provided me a very simple way to treat cradle cap which I have since refined to be more effective. Here are the basic steps:

  • Dampen a cotton ball with a bit of sunflower oil (regular cooking grade sunflower oil is fine)
  • Rub the cotton ball very gently on the baby’s scalp where you see the cradle cap. Do this for just 3-5 minutes, and you can go in a gentle circular motion. Be gentle as the baby’s scalp is sensitive and delicate! Avoid picking or scratching at the cradle cap as it can cause that scalp area to get red and irritated.
  • Then leave on the scalp for about 5-10 minutes before washing it off. The best time to do this is before a bath, but if you don’t plan to give a bath that day, you can just wet and rinse baby’s hair and scalp with a wet towel (you may want to put a very little bit of baby shampoo into the water). It is important to wash away the sunflower oil, and not just let it remain there, as the additional oil may cause the baby’s cradle cap to get worse.
  • After drying baby’s hair and scalp with a terry cloth, you may notice some white flakes coming off quite easily. You can then use a little baby brush or comb to help comb away these flakes.

Viola! You’re done!

Follow this routine daily or every other day at the beginning. Then as your baby’s cradle cap lessens in severity, you can slow down the frequency of doing the scalp care. It is true my baby’s cradle cap may be a milder case compared to most, but I believe that it stayed that way because of these simple scalp care steps!

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