How Do I Deal With My Kid’s Dandruff?

Some adult advice for when your child’s scalp is a little scaly.


Dandruff is never a good thing, but it can be extra worrying when your kids have it — especially infants. Fortunately, there are ways you parents and guardians out there can help your children deal with a flaky scalp.

First off, scientists aren’t entirely sure why certain people get dandruff, a.k.a seborrheic dermatitis, and others don’t. It may be genetic; it may be that a hair product you use doesn’t agree with your skin; or it may be caused by over-washing your head or hair, which strips sebum (the oil we emit to keep our skin protected and moisturized) from your hair and scalp, drying them out. It can also be the result of a fungal infection called Malassezia due to an overabundance of sebum, which the fungus loves to eat.

According to the American Academy of Dermatology, adults are more likely to develop seborrheic dermatitis than children with one exception — the aforementioned infants. Babies are so likely to have a scaly or flaky head, in fact, that it’s earned a special nickname, “Cradle Cap.” 

To combat this, the AAD suggests washing their noggins with a baby-targeted shampoo daily, followed by gentle brushing to remove the scales once they’ve been softened by the bath (extremely gentle, as you don’t want to break the skin). However, if the scales are too tough to brush away, the Mayo Clinic also advises applying baby oil to the scalp for a few hours to soften them further. Just make sure you get all the oil off in the bath afterwards, so the Malassezia stay underfed. 

Cradle cap usually goes away on its own once the baby is around six months old, but if the condition persists or spreads, it’s time to go see a pediatrician about a medicated shampoo. Don’t use store-bought dandruff shampoo (and you know we’re being serious here because we’re including ours in that warning — it’s not designed for babies!) or over-the-counter medicated cream, because they could contain ingredients toxic to infants. While older children can usually use regular dandruff shampoos, you should definitely read the warnings on the label first, and maybe check with your pediatrician, just to be extra safe.

Just rest assured that seborrheic dermatitis is rarely itchy or harmful to children, it’s just a bit of a hassle to deal with. But compared to them waking up four times in the middle of every night, what’s a little extra shampooing?