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Cradle cap is the equivalent of dandruff for babies. It’s a very common condition that appears around two months of age, peaks at around six months, and then slowly disappears. The most bothersome things about it are the smell of the olive oil that’s sometimes used as a cover-up and the fact that it can wreck lots of cute baby pictures. In its mild form, it causes just a few flakes. Occasionally, it looks more like a thick white crust covering the whole scalp; that’s the “cap.”
Cradle cap is a hormonal process, not an illness. Though it improves on its own, it’s remarkably persistent, and flakiness occasionally lasts until as late as the third birthday (by that age you really have to look for it). Breast-feeding mothers often wonder whether their diet or the hormones in the breast milk have triggered or exacerbated the condition. The answer is no. Cradle-cap babies produce excess sebum, which turns into flakes.
As for treatment, oil will make the scalp look better for a few hours because it moistens the flakes, but it won’t affect the root cause at all. Furthermore, if your baby is blessed with a full head of hair, the Elvis option isn’t practical. Rubbing the flakes with your hand or a soft brush will remove some of them, but more will show up the next day. In brief, since the discomfort is minimal and these treatments are fairly inefficient, the laissez-faire approach is a good alternative. When the time comes to impress Grandma, of course, go ahead and apply a little unscented baby oil, just for looks.