Hi Sandra, are there any natural alternatives to soothe cradle cap?
Thank you for your question. Cradle cap (otherwise called infantile seborrhoeic dermatitis) is a common skin condition that may appear in babies within the first six weeks of life. In some cases the condition slowly resolves itself over a few weeks. In others it may continue for six to nine months, and sometimes much longer.
The condition usually presents as an inflammatory eruption on the scalp with redness, or greasy-looking, yellowish scales and flakes. Cradle cap is more common in families with a history of allergies and asthma, and babies with cradle cap are more likely to develop eczema at a later stage. In some cases, cradle cap is associated with yeast or fungal overgrowth. Conventional medicine treats persistent cases with anti-fungal shampoos and sometimes oral antibiotics, but these have known side-effects.
Plant medicine aims at resolving the symptoms as well as helping to heal the skin long term. Topical remedies can be used to soothe the inflammation of cradle cap and help nourish and restore the delicate baby skin.
A plant remedy that originates in traditional Swiss midwifery and that I consistently witnessed good results with, is the 100 per cent petroleum free St. John's Wort oil. It contains fresh flower heads of Hypericum perforatum extracted in certified organic, extra virgin olive oil. This oil has proven anti-inflammatory, wound healing and skin restorative properties and is traditionally used to treat cradle cap (amongst many other virtues).
The best way to use it is to apply the oil to the affected areas of the scalp, cover it and leave it to soak overnight. The next morning, it will be easy to comb the flaky skin off. Apply more oil to soothe the skin. Usually, only a few applications are needed.
Other key plants for cradle cap:
Calendula (Calendula officinalis): a well-researched healing herb for the skin with antiseptic, wound healing, anti-inflammatory and pain relieving properties. It is clinically proven for promoting the healing of open skin, cuts and grazes, with beneficial anti-inflammatory and soothing actions in eczema, psoriasis and wounds. It has anti-yeast actions, making it particularly useful in persistent cradle crap.
Chickweed (Stellaria media): This cooling plant is excellent at relieving itching and irritation. It is anti-inflammatory and can speed the healing of grazes, cuts and wounds.
Nettle (Urtica dioica): The leaves of the stinging nettle plant are a traditional first aid remedy to relieve itchiness. Nettle helps to cleanse tissue of inflammatory by-products, reduces swelling and assists in wound healing. It is both anti-allergic and depurative (improves detoxification and waste removal). With a high nutrient content including calcium, magnesium, iron, and vitamins A & C, it provides important nutrients to restore irritated skin.
I recommend the topical application of these plants in a natural, paraben and paraffin free cream base, three to four times daily, until the condition is resolved.
More severe cases of cradle cap will require internal treatment. The focus should be clearing the skin from within, with the use of plants that support the body's natural elimination processes via the liver and the kidneys. Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale), St Mary's Thistle (Silybum marianum) and Heartsease (Viola tricolor) can all be safely used in children as long as the dose is age-appropriate. Seek professional advice in this case.
Additionally, the use of an eczema-specific probiotic strain (e.g. Lactobacillus Rhamnosus GG) may be helpful in restoring and protecting the child's microflora, which are known to play a role in modulating the immune system and reducing the risk of atopic disease. Probiotics administered to breastfeeding mothers significantly reduced the child's risk of eczema and dermatitis during the first two years of life.
If the condition worsens or does not improve, see your leading healthcare professional immediately.
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Panahi, Y., Sharif, M. R., Sharif, A., Beiraghdar, F., Zahiri, Z., Amirchoopani, G., . . . Sahebkar, A. (2012). A randomized comparative trial on the therapeutic efficacy of topical aloe vera and Calendula officinalis on diaper dermatitis in children. Scientific World Journal, 2012, 810234. doi: 10.1100/2012/810234
Rautava, S., Kalliomaki, M., & Isolauri, E (2002). Probiotics during pregnancy and breast-feeding might confer immunomodulatory protection against atopic disease in the infant. Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, 109 (1), 119-121. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11799376