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Baby Acne and Cradle Cap: Your Baby’s Skin Symptoms

by Dr. Randy


Excerpt from Dr. Neustaedter’s forthcoming book The Holistic Baby Guide.

Reprinted with permission by New Harbinger Publications, Inc.

Baby Acne

Just when you thought everything was going well with your beautiful new baby and all the relatives are coming into town for a visit, she starts breaking out in pimples. Around two to three weeks of age about 20 percent of babies start to break out with red bumps or whiteheads on the face and neck. There are several theories regarding the cause of acne in babies. These pimples may occur because of changes in maternal hormones during late pregnancy or the withdrawal of estrogen after your baby’s birth. This temporary imbalance of male and female hormones may stimulate the oil glands in the skin. One study showed a correlation between the mother’s level of sebaceous gland activity and her baby’s secretion of sebum in these same glands, suggesting a correlation between baby acne and maternal hormones (Henderson, 2000).

Some studies have shown that a majority of infants with acne have a type of yeast growth on their skin, either Malassezia furfur (Rapelanoro, 1997) or Malassezia saprodialis (Bernier, 2002). But others have found no association with this form of yeast and the degree of severity of acne in infants (Ayhan, 2007).

Regardless of the causes, baby acne is a harmless condition that will fade away by the time your baby is 3 to 4 months old, though it can come and go over this period of time. No specific treatment is needed for these pimples.

Giving your baby a bifidobacteria probiotic supplement may be helpful for its anti-inflammatory effect, and mothers who take an omega-3 fish oil supplement will transfer these fats to their babies through breast milk with the same effect. Babies who are fed formula should always be supplemented with fish oil.

Cradle Cap

If your baby has dry flakes on her scalp, or unsightly yellow and oily scales, it’s cradle cap. This is a harmless condition otherwise known as infantile seborrheic dermatitis. Regardless of its name, cradle cap can be annoying and it can be persistent, even into the toddler years and beyond. Can you get rid of it? Usually not by rubbing it off. And because it is already oily, the common practice of coating it with oil and trying to rub it off may make it worse.

Like other skin conditions in children a problem with conversion of essential fatty acids may have a role in cradle cap. One of these essential fatty acids, linoleic acid, may not be converted to gamma linoleic acid (GLA), because of an enzyme deficiency. GLA is important for healthy skin function. There is some evidence that suggests a temporary deficiency of this enzyme is associated with cradle cap in infants (Tollesson, 1993a). Supplementing babies with GLA is an important part of their treatment. GLA is available in the supplemental forms of borage oil or evening primrose oil. Applying borage oil directly to the scalp can also be beneficial (Tollesson 1993b).

Other external applications may help. In a study of patients with seborrheic dermatitis an extract of aloe vera applied to the scalp proved effective in relief of symptoms in 62 percent of the treatment group compared to improvement in only 25 percent of the control group using a placebo cream (Vardy, 1999).

For breastfed babies you can try also try eliminating foods from your diet that may have a role in allergic reactions as well. One study found an improvement in infants’ cradle cap when their mothers eliminated allergenic foods (especially milk, wheat, and eggs) from their diets (Eppig, 1971).


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