How to Treat Dry Scalp in Babies

If your baby has a dry scalp, figuring out the best treatment starts with understanding the cause. A common source of dry scalp is cradle cap, also known as infantile seborrheic dermatitis 14. This form of infant dandruff is most often characterized by thick, yellowish or white scales on the scalp. While the baby’s scalp may appear dry, the underlying problem in cradle cap is really an overproduction of sebum, the oily substance that keeps the skin moisturized. Scalp dryness can also be caused by too frequent washing with water or shampoo, practices that strip the skin of its natural moisturizers from. Infrequently, a condition such as psoriasis or a fungal infection is to blame, so talk to your baby’s pediatrician if the dryness extends beyond the scalp, or doesn’t go away with home treatments.

If your baby has yellow or white greasy scales that accumulate on the scalp and flake, she probably has cradle cap. This is a harmless condition that typically goes away on its own. In fact, most cases of cradle cap don’t have to be treated, but many parents are bothered by the appearance of this skin condition and prefer to treat it. To remove excess scales, place a small amount of vegetable oil, such as olive or coconut oil, on your fingertips and gently massage into your baby’s scalp. Alternatively, petroleum jelly or baby oil can be used.

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Leave the oil or petroleum jelly on the scalp for at least 15 to 30 minutes, allowing the scales to soften. After this, they can be easily removed with an infant hair brush or by gently rubbing a soft cloth on the scalp. Since cradle cap is generally not bothersome for babies, don’t feel pressured to remove all the scales. Brushing or rubbing too hard can cause redness and irritation.

Wash the baby's hair with a mild baby shampoo. After washing the hair, rinse thoroughly. Shampoo left on the scalp can cause dryness and dandruff.

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Bathing or shampooing the hair too often can lead to skin dryness, and can lead to a dry scalp. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, babies only need to be bathed 3 times a week during the first year, as long as the diaper area, face and hands are cleaned regularly. If needed, apply a thin layer of oil or moisturizer to the scalp in between shampoos to prevent dry scalp.


When in the sun, keep a bonnet or sun hat on the baby to help prevent the skin from getting sunburned and drying out.


Talk to your child's pediatrician before using any dandruff shampoo. Also, if your baby's scalp is red, itchy or swollen, have a doctor assess the scalp condition before attempting any home treatment.

Reviewed by Kay Peck, MPH RD