In babies, infantile seborrheic dermatitis (cradle cap) and dandruff are of types of the same disease that affects the seborrheic parts of the body. Seborrheic dermatitis is a common, chronic (relapsing) form of dermatitis that mainly affects gland-rich regions of the scalp, face, and trunk (1).
Dandruff, on the other hand, is restricted to the scalp (2). Dandruff is much more common in adults than in babies. That said, its treatment and prevention in babies are not difficult provided the cause is understood well. For that, we recommend you consult a pediatrician, especially when your baby’s scalp is extremely itchy.
Keep reading this MomJunction post to understand the causes of dandruff in babies and the ways to treat it.
Signs And Symptoms Of Baby Dandruff
- Itchy scalp
- Flaky, dry skin without inflammation on baby’s scalp
- Red, yellow, or silvery patches on and around your baby’s head
- Dry patches that may be scaly or rough to touch
Causes For Dandruff In Babies
The exact cause of dandruff is unknown. However, it is believed that it is a result of multiple factors like genetics, the yeast that naturally lives on the skin, irritants, chemicals, dry and cold weather, and overproduction of sebum (1). Out of the many, the most prevalent causes are:
- Cradle cap, which also causes scaly and flaky patches, mostly yellowish in appearance.
- Frequent shampooing, rendering the scalp dry due to moisture loss.
- Dry weather conditions such as winters, which make the scalp dry.
The main causes of dandruff in babies include overproduction of sebum or skin oil, or overgrowth of a fungus called Malassezia, which may cause the skin cells on the scalp to shed quickly. In this case, you may notice gray or white flakes on your baby’s head (4).
When To See A Doctor?
Generally, with the use of some home remedies, dandruff can be treated within a week or so. But in case you see that the dandruff is persistent and even worsening, taking pediatric consultation is wise. This is more prudent if your baby’s scalp is showing the following signs:
Are The Scales On Baby’s Head Only Due To Dandruff?
Scales on the baby’s head or body may not be due dandruff always. If the skin on your baby’s scalp is scaling and flaking, it may be due to reasons other than dandruff, such as:
- Sunburn on the scalp: This risk can be avoided by limiting your baby’s exposure to the sun or making them wear a hat.
- Using excess shampoo and not rinsing well during a wash: Dried shampoo residue on the scalp can show up as flakes and may resemble dandruff. This can be avoided by spending more time rinsing than lathering and using no more than a dime-size dollop of shampoo.
- Shampooing less often causes oils and skin cells to accumulate on the scalp, thereby giving the flaky structure.
- Atopic dermatitis (eczema) or psoriasis may cause scaling by making the skin dry. At times, it may not be easy to differentiate between normal dandruff and eczema.
- The cold, dry winter air, which renders baby’s scalp dry, may also cause flakes.
- Cradle cap is another cause in babies less than one-year-old (5).
- Ringworm, caused by a fungus, may also be a reason for flaking and hair loss in babies.
- Lice cause scratching, itching, and flaking, though it is not very common in babies.
It is important to rule out the cause for flaking to proceed with the right dandruff treatment for babies. Visit your doctor for assistance if you suspect that your little one has dandruff. Do not delay if the baby scratches a lot and has itchy scales, red areas, and oozing in the scalp. This is crucial as the same may indicate an underlying medical, such as a fungal infection.
How To Get Rid Of Baby Dandruff?
Once it is confirmed that your baby has dandruff, follow these steps to get rid of it.
- Brush the baby’s dry hair to remove large and visible flakes of dandruff before shampooing.
- The use of mineral oil to help get rid of dandruff is anecdotal, yet, it could be tried for the baby post pediatric consultation. This is crucial as the same will help in loosening the flakes stuck to the scalp. To use the oil, gently massage the oil on your baby’s scalp before shampoo. Let the oil stay on the scalp for some time and then comb your baby’s hair. As you shampoo, ensure that all the oil gets removed as otherwise, it could lead to more issues.
- Use regular baby shampoo to wash the baby’s hair every day. Mild dandruff can be easily removed this way.
- For severe dandruff, use medicated dandruff shampoo recommended by a pediatrician. Use once or twice a week, depending on the severity of dandruff and doctor’s prescription. While shampooing, leave the shampoo on the scalp for a minimum of two minutes.
- When washing the baby’s hair, gently use fingers to massage the scalp and build a good lather. Rinse with water thoroughly. Do not use any conditioners.
- Pat-dry the baby’s head with a towel.
- If the baby is prone to dandruff, then you must maintain the normal pH of the scalp, and an oil-free scalp mostly addresses the problem.
- The doctor may prescribe anti-fungal scalp lotion or cream for the baby. The hydrocortisone creams available over the counter might aid in relieving inflammation, redness, and itchiness. But their use must be under pediatric guidance, preferably for correct dosage and usage (6).
How To Prevent Dandruff In Babies?
- Once treated, dandruff can recur. Hence, it is wise to follow some preventive steps that could help you keep your baby’s dandruff at bay.
- Fix a regular shampoo routine. Under and over-shampooing, both could disturb the pH of your baby’s scalp. The number of times you shampoo your baby’s scalp depends on their condition. For example, in the case of cradle cap, shampooing daily could help remove excess oil and loosen the flakes on your baby’s scalp. However, for all other causes of the dry scalp shampooing every other day might avoid excess dryness.
- Use medicated shampoo prescribed by a doctor. They would suggest a specific shampoo to your baby after determining the cause for dandruff.
- Regular oiling. This could help avoid the build-up of stuck-on dandruff flakes. While you use an oil, using an organic, virgin oil, such as coconut oil or olive oil, would be good.
Frequently Asked Questions
1. Is dandruff contagious?
Dandruff that causes yellowish or white flaky skin is not dangerous or contagious but can be unsightly and itchy.
2. What is cradle cap? How is it different from dandruff in babies?
The dry, scaly scalp is referred to as cradle cap or infantile seborrheic dermatitis. It is usually common in babies aged more than three months (7). Cradle cap can cause dandruff as the skin flakes off besides showing yellowish crusty patches on the scalp. According to the American Association of Pediatrics, the problem can be outgrown by most babies or can be treated using olive oil as its hydrating properties act as a natural remedy in healing cradle cap.
3. Can anti-dandruff shampoos be used for babies?
The use of over-the-counter anti-dandruff shampoos for babies may not be safe, especially because of their delicate scalp. However, you can use medicated anti-dandruff shampoos for babies post pediatric consultation.
Mild dandruff is manageable at home with simple remedies. However, persistent or severe forms of dandruff might indicate underlying conditions like psoriasis, eczema, and cradle cap that require medical attention. Making a note of the severity of occurrence will help your doctor in understanding the little one’s situation promptly. Remember that your little one deserves a healthy scalp, which could be maintained easily with a home care routine.
Do you know any home remedies for treating and preventing dandruff? If yes, tell us about them in the comments section below.
2. Luis J. Borda and Tongyu C. Wikramanayake; Seborrheic Dermatitis and Dandruff: A Comprehensive Review; National Center For Biotechnology Information (2015)
3. Dandruff; National Health Service, UK
4. Seborrheic dermatitis; Medline Plus, U.S National Library of Medicine
5. Cradle cap; Better Health Channel; Victoria State Government
6. Dandruff; Health Service Executive
7. Cradle cap; The Royal Children’s Hospital, Melbourne
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