Dr. Greene

DIY Natural Remedies for Diaper Rash, Eczema, and Cradle Cap

About 20% of babies develop eczema, up to 40% get cradle cap, and almost all will at some point or another get a diaper rash. Infant skin problems are an issue every parent faces, but before you reach for conventional creams and over-the-counter ointments, consider this fact: in a study conducted by the Environmental Working Group, they found that the average child is exposed through body care products to 27 chemicals a day that have not been found safe for children.

In some extreme cases, you may need a product or prescription with extra strength, but in most circumstances, simple, natural remedies will suffice. For moments of minor diaper rash, eczema, and cradle cap, here are DIY natural remedies to help.


A rash in the diaper area might be caused by friction, irritants, allergies, infections, seborrhea, psoriasis, diarrhea, or a long list of systemic diseases. Skin wetness is the common denominator underlying the various causes of diaper rash. Urinary wetness increases skin friction, raises the skin pH, makes the skin less cohesive, and makes it more permeable. All of this can make it more likely that enzymes in the stool will irritate the skin.

In all of the diaper rashes mentioned above, the outermost layer of skin — stratum corneum — has been damaged. With this protective layer breached, it is easy for microorganisms such as yeast or bacteria to invade the inflamed skin. This makes the rash worse and less responsive to the usual treatments. Nip it in the bud early on using the following natural remedies:
  • Go diaper-less. As much as possible, let your baby’s bottom air out. To prevent messes, place your baby on a rubber mat covered with a towel.
  • Control moisture with cornstarch. Skip talcum powders, which can contain risky contaminants and perfumes, and use cornstarch instead. Shake a little in your hand (away from baby’s face) and pat baby’s bottom to help dry damp areas and reduce friction.
  • Try a baking soda bath. If the rash is very red and raw, try giving baby a sitz bath. Simple add 2 tablespoons baking soda to a tub of warm water and have baby sit in it for 10 minutes each day.
  • Choose coconut oil over conventional cream. Among other things, coconut oil contains lauric acid (which is also found in breast milk) and has antimicrobial and antifungal properties. It helps promote healing while also soothing baby’s delicate skin. Use your fingertips to apply to the affected area and allow it to dry before replacing the diaper.

Technically, the word eczema is a general term, referring to a broad range of red, itchy rashes, including contact allergies such as poison oak. Usually, though, most people use eczema to mean a specific condition called atopic dermatitis. Atopic dermatitis is one of the most common skin conditions in children. You can help minimize inflamed patches of eczema, but her skin will remain sensitive until she outgrows the condition. Here are some simple tips and natural remedies to use in the meantime:
  • Avoid triggers. Identifying and avoiding the triggers is the best way to treat atopic dermatitis. These triggers vary from child to child. Here is a list of common triggers to watch for:
  1. Rubbing or scratching the skin
  2. Excessive moisture, such as from saliva or milk
  3. Excessive dryness
  4. Overheating
  5. Cold air
  6. Common house dust
  7. Wool or other scratchy fabric
  8. Cow’s milk
  9. Wheat
  10. Soy
  11. Peanuts
  12. Nuts
  13. Eggs
  14. Dog or cat dander
  15. Cigarette smoke
  16. Clothes washed in an irritating detergent
  17. Soap
  • Moisturize mindfully. Keeping a moderate amount of moisture in the skin is a cornerstone of treatment. To keep skin healthy, it is better to avoid long baths - anything that causes skin “pruning,” which disrupts the moisture-retaining layer of sensitive skin. Aim for frequent, brief baths in lukewarm water, and don’t use any cleanser unless she is particularly dirty. These brief baths will hydrate the skin, not dry it out. After baths, and in between, moisturize skin using coconut oil.
  • Try a homemade healing salve. Every child’s eczema is a bit unique, both in cause and comforting solutions. You can find many DIY natural remedies online, but you’ll have to do a bit of experimenting to see what works for your child. Here’s one recipe:
    • Warm ¾ cup of coconut oil on the stove.
    • Add a few drops of rosemary oil {optional}
    • Stir in 1/4 cup of oats that’s been finely ground in a food processor to be the consistency of flour.
    • Add 1 tablespoon of olive oil.
    • Pour into a container and wait a few hours for it to solidify.

We are constantly making new skin cells at about the rate that we lose old, dry skin cells. The old skin falls off and we usually don’t even notice the process. In many healthy infants, the skin cells on their scalp grow faster than they can fall off, leaving a layer of somewhat crusty, extra skin. This scaling rash is called “cradle cap.”
Generally, cradle cap does not need to be treated as long as it doesn’t bother you or the baby. Sometimes it itches.

The gentlest treatment is to simply rub a small amount of coconut oil (yes, it’s potentially effective for all three skin conditions we’re covering today!) or shea butter onto your baby’s scalp. Avoid using vegetable or olive oil since a yeast named Malassezia thrives on plant-based oils, worsening the problem instead of treating it. (Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med. 2012;166(10):967) Let the coconut oil or shea butter soak into the skin flakes for about 30 minutes, then gently work flakes loose using a fine tooth comb. Shampoo your baby’s hair using a mild, natural baby shampoo and rinse.

All of the measures outlined above (and more) may be needed, off and on, until your baby outgrows these common infant skin conditions. Nevertheless, if they persist or worsen, be sure to inform your pediatrician.

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Dr. Greene

Dr. Greene is a practicing pediatrician, author, speaker, children’s health advocate, and father of four.

Dr. Levine

Dr. Alanna Levine is a New York based pediatrician and a mom of two children.