Babies have soft, delicate skin. This means your baby’s skin is easily irritated and prone to dryness, including the skin on their head and scalp. If your little one has flaky skin on their head, you’re probably wondering if it’s a sign of dry scalp or cradle cap.
It’s not uncommon for a baby to develop one or both of these conditions. But how are they different? And, more importantly, how can you care for your little one when they have baby dry scalp or cradle cap?
In this post, the baby experts at Mustela will answer both of these questions and more.
What’s The Difference Between Baby Dry Scalp And Cradle Cap?
Dry scalp and cradle cap are similar conditions, so it can be tough to tell them apart. At their core, both stem from your little bundle of joy having dry skin on their head. So what’s the difference between the two?
In short, dry scalp is just that: dry, flaky skin on your little one’s head. It’s essentially a case of baby dandruff. The skin may appear red or yellowish and feel scaly or rough to the touch. Dead skin may flake off of your baby’s dry scalp.
Cradle cap, on the other hand, begins with a dry scalp but has progressed slightly further. Rather than just flaky, scaly skin, cradle cap is characterized by rough, crusty bumps that protrude from your baby’s scalp. Whereas baby dry scalp will feel dry, cradle cap will actually feel oily to the touch.
Let’s talk a bit more in-depth about both dry scalp and cradle cap and go over the causes and symptoms of each
All About Dry Scalp
Dry skin is perfectly normal for adults, toddlers, and infants alike. Sometimes, that dry skin can develop on your or your baby’s scalp.
What causes your baby’s scalp to become dry? There are several factors that may contribute to baby dry scalp, including:
Harsh weather (very hot or very cold temperatures, powerful winds, etc. )
Sunburn on your baby’s head
Long baths or baths that are too hot
Shampoos and soaps that are too strong for your baby’s skin
Accidentally failing to rinse all of the shampoo out of your child’s hair
Any combination of these factors may cause dry scalp.
You’ll be able to identify the condition by the following symptoms:
Dry skin on your baby’s head that may be flaky, scaly, or peeling
Reddish, pinkish, yellowish, or brownish discoloration on your little one’s scalp
Signs of discomfort, such as crying or squirming more than usual
If your little one is showing these symptoms, it is very likely that they have dry scalp.
All About Cradle Cap
Like eczema or baby acne, cradle cap is an extremely common skin condition. In fact, some research estimates that as many as 70 percent of infants develop cradle cap before three months of age.
Despite its prevalence, researchers aren’t exactly sure what causes cradle cap. There are several possibilities.
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One theory is that cradle cap is the result of a problem with the sebaceous glands on your child’s head. Sebaceous glands are responsible for releasing sebum, a natural oil the human body secretes to keep skin protected and moisturized.
If excess sebum is released, it can harden and form into small clusters. Alternatively, if sebaceous glands become clogged, the sebum released may solidify and build up on top of your little one’s pores.
A second possible cause of cradle cap is a strain of yeast called Malassezia. This particular type of yeast is naturally found on living human skin, but it may sometimes cause skin conditions or infections. This is especially true if the Malassezia begin to colonize within your baby’s sebaceous glands.
While we don’t know what exactly causes cradle cap, we do know that it is not a hygiene issue. Some parents may believe cradle cap is related to poor hygiene or inadequate bathing, but this is simply not the case.
A few other important points about cradle cap: it is not contagious, and it is not painful for your baby. It may be unsightly, but it will not spread and your baby is probably not in any discomfort.
You can identify cradle cap by these common symptoms:
Small patches of crusty, oily skin that feel both greasy and rough
Spots appearing mostly on your baby’s head, neck, and/or face
The rough, oily patches being raised from your child’s skin (not flat)
If your baby is showing these symptoms, they probably have a case of cradle cap. But don’t worry. There are plenty of easy and effective ways to treat it.
How To Treat Your Baby’s Dry Scalp And Cradle Cap
Fortunately, the same treatments are effective in caring for both cradle cap and baby dry scalp. Here are seven easy and effective treatments for your little one’s dry scalp or cradle cap.
1) Bathe Your Baby Regularly
While hygiene is definitely not a cause of dry scalp or cradle cap, baths are still essential for keeping your little one’s skin healthy. Daily baths are helpful when caring for your child’s sensitive scalp area.
If you prefer, however, you can bathe your child every other day instead of every day. As long as you’re maintaining an adequate daily hygiene routine and changing your baby’s diapers the right way, three to four baths per week is sufficient.
2) Use Micellar Water In-Between Baths
To keep your baby’s skin extra clean on days they go without a bath, use a safe and baby-friendly micellar water, like Mustela’s Organic Micellar Water with Olive Oil and Aloe.
It’s perfect for traveling and super easy to use! Simply apply it to your baby’s skin — their face, body, and diaper area, too — using a soft cloth, diaper wipe, or cotton pad. Then pat them dry. There’s no need to rinse!
Our micellar water is made with 99.7% naturally derived ingredients, including organic aloe vera and organic olive oil to protect, soften, and soothe your baby’s kissable skin. And it cleanses your little one’s skin without stripping it of its natural oils.
3) Keep Baths Short
Long baths can remove sebum from your baby’s skin and scalp, leaving them vulnerable to dehydration and dryness. To care for your baby’s dry scalp or cradle cap, limit baths to 10 minutes or less.
Remember that your little one can still have loads of fun even if it’s a short bath. With Mustela’s Multi-Sensory Bubble Bath, you can keep them happy and entertained in a bath full of bubbles!
4) Make Sure Bath Water Is The Right Temperature
Bath water should be approximately the same as your baby’s body temperature: 98. 6 degrees Fahrenheit. If it’s one or two degrees above or below, that’s completely fine.
This water temperature will be most comfortable for your baby. It’s also the ideal temperature for your little one’s sensitive skin. Use a bath thermometer to easily and accurately check that the water is not too hot and not too cold, but just right!
5) Protect Your Baby From The Elements
As we mentioned earlier, both in winter and summer, weather can contribute to your baby’s dry scalp. The cold, windy weather of wintertime can dry skin out, and the heat and sunburn of summertime can, too!
Protect your little one’s skin and scalp during the winter by wrapping them up properly and putting a cute hat on their head.
And in the summer, steer clear of sunburn by keeping your baby in the shade, dressing them in protective clothing (including an adorable sun hat!), and applying mineral sunscreen, like Mustela’s SPF 50 Mineral Sunscreen Lotion.
Made with coconut oil and other hydrating ingredients, our fragrance-free, broad-spectrum sunscreen offers safe and effective daily sun protection for babies, children, and the entire family.
And, unlike other mineral sunscreens, this one blends in easily and doesn’t leave a white cast on your skin! Use it on your baby’s face and body, knowing it’s gentle enough for even the smallest member of your family.
6) Use Gentle Products
Many soaps and shampoos are too harsh for your baby’s skin — even the ones that claim to be formulated for kids. These strong soaps and shampoos can further irritate your baby’s dry scalp.
Take wonderful care of your little bundle of joy by using gentle, baby-safe skin care products like Mustela’s. Mustela offers a variety of body washes, shampoos, cleansers, and other bath-time products that are formulated with natural ingredients, hypoallergenic, and free of parabens, phthalates, and phenoxyethanol.
Specifically, our Foam Shampoo For Newborns is formulated to rinse away flakes associated with cradle cap. How does it work? This tear-free shampoo contains BHA and salicylic acid to gently exfoliate and rinse away cradle cap flakes.
But rest assured: we’ve tested this product under pediatric and dermatological control, and it’s specially formulated to minimize the risk of allergic reactions. Plus, our 99% plant-based formula is also biodegradable to make you, your baby, and the earth happy all at the same time
7) Apply Cradle Cap Cream
If your baby has cradle cap, use products specifically designed to address this condition. Mustela’s Cradle Cap Cream works to prevent and eliminate cradle cap flakes, reduce the likelihood of future recurrence, and soothe your little one’s scalp in the process.
All you have to do is apply this leave-on cream to the affected area once a day. Massage it in lightly and, for best results, leave it on overnight and rinse it out the following day when you give your baby a bath.
Our fragrance-free Cradle Cap Cream is composed of 95% naturally derived ingredients, developed in collaboration with healthcare professionals, and is safe for use from birth on!
8) Apply Baby Oil Or Natural Oils
A few drops of Mustela's Baby Oil will keep your little one’s scalp moisturized and help to loosen any dead skin that has accumulated on their head.
Made with pomegranate seed oil, sunflower seed oil, and avocado oil, our protective baby oil blends effortlessly into your little one’s skin for a soothing and comforting massage.
Some parents prefer to use coconut oil or olive oil to care for their little one’s scalp. While these oils aren’t specially formulated to treat your baby’s skin, they are natural oils and ultimately safe to use on your child.
(Note: avoid essential oils, which have not been verified as safe for infants.)
9) Massage Your Baby’s Head
Giving your baby a very gentle head massage will soothe them and help to remove dead skin cells at the same time. Using your fingertips, simply rub along the surface of your baby’s dry scalp.
Remember to do this as gently as possible, since your baby’s skull is not yet fully developed.
Speaking of massaging your baby, if you’ve never given them a baby massage, try it out! The benefits are many, including reduced gas in colicky infants, a healthier immune system, and better sleep.
To learn how to give a baby massage, check out our article here.
10) Gently Brush Your Baby’s Dry Scalp
Similarly to a head massage, brushing your baby’s head will help to remove dead skin cells from your little one’s dry scalp. As the dead skin cells fall off, younger and healthier skin cells are able to rise to the surface of your baby’s skin.
Always use a baby brush with soft bristles. And, who knows, you may find that your baby loves having their scalp brushed!
11) Head To The Doctor’s Office
If your baby has a dry scalp or cradle cap that lasts more than a week, it’s best to talk to a pediatrician. You should also head to the doctor’s office if your baby seems to be in pain. As always, check with a pediatrician before giving your child any medications.
Say Goodbye To Your Baby’s Dry Scalp And Cradle Cap
You love your child more than anything in the world, so it can be concerning to notice they have dry scalp or cradle cap. Just remember that these conditions are not contagious, have nothing to do with hygiene, and are almost certainly not causing your child any discomfort.
Simply follow the 11 tips above and use Mustela’s line of gentle, natural, and safe products, like Foam Shampoo For Newborns and Cradle Cap Cream. Your baby’s scalp will be back to normal in no time!
Causes, Home Remedies, When to Seek Help
Anyone can get a dry scalp, including your baby. But it can be difficult to determine the cause of your baby’s dry scalp as well as how to treat it.
Read on to learn about the possible causes of dry scalp in babies and what you can do about it. As a rule of thumb, see your baby’s pediatrician if your baby’s scalp doesn’t improve or if it’s extremely itchy or irritated.
Dry scalp in babies may be linked to underlying conditions of the skin, such as seborrheic dermatitis or eczema. In some cases, you may also notice your baby’s scalp is drier during certain times of the year, or in response to their shampoo.
Below are the possible causes of your baby’s dry scalp, as well as the key symptoms to look for.
Cradle cap causes
One of the most common scalp conditions seen in babies is related to a condition called cradle cap. It’s also called infantile seborrheic dermatitis or “crib cap.”
This condition is not contagious and does not cause discomfort to your baby. It typically resolves on its own, though you can help loosen up the flakes with baby shampoos, mineral oil, and gentle brushing techniques.
Though the exact cause isn’t known, cradle cap is thought to be attributed to a combination of genetic and environmental factors. It’s also sometimes caused by the overgrowth of Malassezia fungi in sebum (oil) underneath the skin.
Cradle cap causes thick, oily patches on the scalp that may range from white to yellow in color. If your baby has cradle cap on the scalp, they may also have these patches in other oily areas of the body, such as their armpits, groin, and ears.
Dandruff can also cause a dry scalp. Unlike the more common appearance of cradle cap, dandruff is white, dry, and sometimes itchy. Dandruff may be genetic. If you have dry skin, your baby could have dry skin, too.
Overwashing your baby’s skin doesn’t cause dandruff. But if your baby has this condition, you may want to shampoo their scalp less frequently. Wash every other day instead of every day to prevent dryness from getting worse. Cold weather and low humidity can also worsen dandruff.
Allergies can also cause your baby to have a dry scalp, though this is less common. If the dry scalp is accompanied by a red, itchy rash, allergies may be the cause.
Eczema refers to a number of conditions that cause inflamed, red, and itchy skin. In babies, the most common type of eczema is seborrheic dermatitis, which tends to develop after 3 months of age.
Other types of eczema in babies may include atopic dermatitis and contact dermatitis. While contact dermatitis involves symptoms that develop when the skin encounters an irritating substance, such as fragrances, atopic dermatitis tends to come and go. Atopic dermatitis is also hereditary, and can develop in babies as young as 6 months old.
If contact dermatitis is causing your baby’s scalp eczema, you may notice symptoms of red, inflamed skin after your baby comes into contact with products, such as shampoos or lotions with fragrances in them. Blistering and itching are also possible.
With atopic dermatitis, you may notice that the eczema isn’t confined to your baby’s scalp. You might also see symptoms in other areas of their body, particularly on the face. While eczema is usually red, the scales may have a dry appearance, too.
External causes of dry scalp in children and babies
Weather and environmental elements, lifestyle, and personal care products may also contribute to the underlying causes of dry scalp in babies. Possibilities include:
overheating and sweating from warm temperatures or sun exposure
baby shampoos and other personal care products that have fragrances or alcohol
allergens, such as animal dander
While a dry scalp may be noticeably drier, with white colored scales, cradle cap tends to cause oilier and crusty-looking scales. Cradle cap also tends to be yellowish or red in color.
Also, while cradle cap symptoms may appear on your baby’s face, not all underlying causes of dry scalp will spread to other parts of the body.
Once you’ve identified the cause of your baby’s dry scalp, it’s usually treatable at home.
Adjust your shampoo schedule
Shampooing your baby’s hair not only removes dirt and oil from their delicate strands, but it helps remove excess dirt and oil from their scalp, too. The amount of times you shampoo your baby’s scalp can vary based on their condition, though.
For cradle cap, shampooing daily can help remove oil and loosen the flakes on your baby’s scalp. All other causes of dry scalp may benefit from shampooing every other day to avoid excess dryness.
Use medicated shampoo
If adjusting the frequency of shampooing doesn’t help, you may want to try an over-the-counter medicated shampoo. Look for one that’s specifically formulated for babies.
For dandruff and eczema, look for anti-dandruff shampoos containing pyrithione zinc or selenium sulfide. More stubborn patches related to cradle cap may require stronger anti-dandruff shampoos, such as those containing tar or salicylic acid. Your baby’s doctor or a pharmacist can tell you which shampoo is best.
No matter which medicated shampoo you choose, the key is to leave the shampoo on your baby’s scalp for a minimum of 2 minutes. For cradle cap, you may need to repeat the process.
Use the medicated shampoo 2 to 7 days per week until symptoms improve, or as directed on the packaging. It may take up to 1 month for symptoms to clear up.
Try mineral oil
Mineral oil (“baby oil”) is thought to help loosen stuck-on flakes left on the scalp and help reduce symptoms of cradle cap. Although it’s a common home remedy, mineral oil hasn’t been proven to help.
If you want to try mineral oil, gently massage the oil onto your baby’s scalp before shampooing. For extra benefits, run a comb over the scalp to loosen the flakes. Let the oil soak in for a few minutes before rinsing off.
You can repeat this process for cradle cap before each shampoo session. As the flakes start to improve, you can reduce the frequency.
The key is to make sure you completely wash all the oil away. You can also leave a small amount of oil overnight and wash your baby’s scalp in the morning.
Massage on olive oil
If your baby has dandruff or eczema, you may consider an olive oil scalp massage instead of mineral oil. Use the same process as above, and be sure to rinse thoroughly.
Apply hydrocortisone cream
Hydrocortisone cream is available over the counter. It may help alleviate redness, inflammation, and itchiness. While it can help scalp eczema, it won’t necessarily help cradle cap or everyday dandruff buildup.
Speak with your baby’s doctor before trying this method. Hydrocortisone cream is generally safe for babies if not used in the long term.
Apply hydrocortisone to your baby’s scalp after shampooing and drying their hair. You can reapply one to two times per day as needed, or as recommended by your baby’s pediatrician.
If eczema is causing the dryness, hydrocortisone cream may improve symptoms within a week.
Depending on the cause, it can take several weeks for the dryness to go away.
If you don’t see any improvements at all within 1 week of treatment, it may be time to have a pediatrician look at your baby’s scalp. They might recommend a prescription-strength shampoo or a steroid cream to treat any underlying inflammation. If you don’t already have a pediatrician, the Healthline FindCare tool can help you find a physician in your area.
Also see your baby’s doctor if your baby’s scalp starts:
These could be early signs of an infection.
Cradle cap can occur in babies and toddlers up to 3 years of age. If cradle cap is the cause, your child may continue to have a dry scalp until they’re older. Once cradle cap or dandruff resolves, it usually won’t return.
Some causes of dry scalp are chronic, such as eczema. Your child might need occasional treatments as they age.
Genetic factors, such as dry skin and allergies, may also persist throughout childhood and adulthood. If your baby’s scalp recovers, other skin symptoms may show up later in life, but treatments are available.
Preventing dry scalp in babies ultimately depends on the underlying cause, and it’s important to follow your treatment plan from your child’s pediatrician. As a rule of thumb, you can try the following preventive measures to help keep your baby’s scalp healthy:
wash and dry your baby’s hair regularly, using lukewarm water
gently brush your baby’s scalp and hair every day
use fragrance-free shampoos, lotions, and detergents only
avoid any known allergens, such as pollen and dander
keep your baby out of excessively warm or dry weather conditions
dress your baby in layers so they don’t sweat
Dry scalps in babies are normal and often treatable at home. In most cases, the underlying cause is cradle cap. Dandruff, eczema, and allergies are other possible causes.
If your baby’s scalp doesn’t improve after a couple weeks of treatment or if symptoms get worse, see your baby’s pediatrician.
The skin of a newborn is flaky: we find out the reasons
Reviewer Kovtun Tatiana Anatolievna
September 15, 2021
When we talk about soft and smooth skin, comparisons with the skin of babies often come to mind. But in fact, their skin is also prone to dryness and flaking. In this article, we will talk about the physiological peeling of the skin, provoking factors, some diseases, and also share tips for caring for the baby.
Peeling - as a variant of the norm
The baby is born covered with the original lubricant, consisting of the secretion of the sebaceous glands and epidermal flakes. Scientifically, it is called Vernix Caseosa, and is formed at 25-26 weeks of pregnancy. Its function is to protect the baby's skin from the effects of amniotic fluid. When it comes off, you can notice that the baby's skin has begun to peel off. This is a completely natural process0019 1 , because your baby has been living in the amniotic fluid throughout your pregnancy, and now he has to adapt to a new, “dry” environment.
The intensity of skin exfoliation is individual for each baby, and the process usually takes one to two weeks. No special therapy is required, the usual gentle care of newborns, such as bathing with special products for babies, is sufficient.
Peeling due to improper care
Long, frequent baths, aggressive soap, too warm water - a blow to the protective barrier of the child's skin. Often this can lead to dryness and flaking. There are opinions that the first bathing of the crumbs should take place with the addition of "potassium permanganate" to the water in order to disinfect it. So, this is absolutely not worth doing. There is no evidence that the method works, but the substance has a negative effect on the child's skin 2 .
According to recommendations 3 of the Union of Pediatricians of Russia, the water temperature for baths should be at the level of 36.5-37.5 °C. Newborns do not need daily bathing, regular hygiene procedures and 2-3 baths per week are recommended.
Peeling - as a symptom of the disease
Eczema and atopic dermatitis
It is characterized by red dry patches on the skin. In infants, it is most commonly found on the scalp or face. Parents are advised to look for triggers that can provoke an outbreak: this could be a reaction to children's cosmetics or an allergy to some object. There is no cure for eczema, but doctors prescribe medications to help relieve the symptoms.
A very rare disease in which babies are born with an extra layer of skin on the body. It consists of a layer of skin cells that had to exfoliate before being born. Such children are observed in the intensive care unit until the skin condition returns to normal.
In the first three months of your baby's life, you may find that his scalp is flaky. Most likely seborrheic dermatitis 1 , which occurs in children of this age and resolves on its own. But if the condition worsens or drags on, then do not postpone a visit to the pediatrician.
Baby care checklist
Bathe your baby in warm running water if it meets hygiene standards - this is stated in the recommendations 3 of the Union of Pediatricians of Russia. That is, it is not necessary to boil water at all.
Bathing time for babies of the first month of life is 5-10 minutes. Prolonged contact with water deprives the skin of its natural protective barrier 1 .
Choose detergents with a mild composition and a pH level (5.5) close to the physiological values of the skin. Liquid baths 3 tend to be less irritating to the skin and rinse off more easily than soaps.
Hypoallergenic moisturizers suitable from birth can be applied to baby's skin. But it is better to minimize the use of any means 3 .
Washing powders and fabric softeners are best chosen without fragrances - babies have very sensitive skin.
Useful links:  verywellhealth: Why newborns have flaky skin  Bathing a baby (Moscow Regional Center for Public Health and Medical Prevention (MOTSOZiMP)  Newborn skin care, 2016
Reviewer Kovtun Tatiana Anatolievna
Scientific adviser of PROGRESS JSC, Candidate of Medical Sciences
All articles of the expert like other vital organs and systems of a growing organism. The skin of babies has a number of anatomical and physiological features, so it needs special care.
Many parents are faced with the problem of peeling skin in a newborn. Most often this is a normal condition due to natural causes, but sometimes dryness and peeling can indicate the development of certain diseases. Understanding how the skin of newborns works will help you cope with unpleasant symptoms and prevent unwanted problems.
The condition of the baby's skin in the first weeks of life
After birth, the original lubricant is removed from the baby's skin, which consists of the secret of the sebaceous glands of the newborn, exfoliated epidermal scales and remnants of vellus hair. The skin of the baby begins to adapt to the environment. Within 1-2 days, physiological postpartum hyperemia (redness) and skin edema subside. After that, signs of drying out may appear. This condition persists for 2-4 weeks of life and is observed in every third child. Therefore, superficial peeling of the skin in a newborn at 1 week, and sometimes at the next three, is an absolutely normal condition.
The skin can become dry and flaky not only on the body but also on the child's head. This symptom may be a manifestation of seborrheic dermatitis of infants. In everyday life, it is also called "milk crusts". Seborrheic dermatitis occurs in up to 71% of cases in the first 3 months of life and lasts from several weeks to several months. The causes of such peeling of the scalp in a newborn are not fully known.
Doctors believe that the following factors may play a role in the development of this process:
Yeast growth on skin;
Increased secretion of sebum;
The presence of residues of mother's hormones in the child's body.
"Milk crusts" are not contagious. Their presence has nothing to do with poor hygiene.
Diaper dermatitis as one of the causes of peeling of the skin in a newborn on the body
Diaper dermatitis is a common skin disease that affects almost every young child at least once. Its main signs are itching, dryness, peeling of the skin, as well as the appearance of a rash and cracks in the diaper area.
Several factors contribute to the development of the disease:
Anatomical and physiological features of the skin of infants;
Excessive skin friction and moisture under diaper or diaper;
Systematic contamination of the skin with faeces containing irritating enzymes;
Raising the pH level of the skin under a diaper or diaper.
All of these factors damage the baby's delicate skin. Appropriate care, including frequent diaper changes, gentle cleansing of the skin and the use of protective creams, helps to prevent the occurrence of diaper dermatitis and speed up the healing of affected areas.
In summary, in order to prevent skin diseases in newborns, mothers must provide meticulous skin care, change diapers frequently, and maintain skin barriers using specially designed creams and ointments.
1. Barer G.M., Volkov E.A. / book “Therapeutic dentistry. Diseases of the oral mucosa”, 2005 edition / chapter 9: Diseases of the lips: https://studopedia.