About this time last year, my eldest son was coping with a bad case of cradle cap, i.e., thick, waxy dandruff on his head. He's always had very sensitive skin, and I suspect weekly swimming lessons took their toll on his scalp. I did a bit of research, trying to find out what causes cradle cap. Mayo Clinic says:
Though the exact cause of cradle cap isn't known, one contributing factor may be hormones that pass from the mother to the baby before birth. These hormones cause an abnormal production of oil (sebum) in the oil glands and hair follicles.
Another factor may be a yeast (fungus) called malassezia that grows in the sebum along with bacteria. Antifungal treatments, such as ketoconazole, are often effective, supporting the idea that yeast is a contributing factor.
Given that he was 12 at the time, I'm pretty sure the birth hormones weren't playing a big factor at this point. They go on to recommend the following treatments:
Cradle cap usually doesn't require medical treatment. It clears up on its own within a few months. In the meantime, wash your baby's hair once a day with mild baby shampoo and brush the scalp lightly with a soft brush to loosen the scales.
If frequent shampooing doesn't help, consult your baby's doctor. He or she may recommend a stronger shampoo — such as an adult dandruff shampoo containing tar, 2 percent ketoconazole or 1 percent selenium — to help dissolve the scales. Hydrocortisone cream applied daily or every other day is sometimes helpful to reduce redness and inflammation.
We did try treating the cradle cap with emu oil and coconut oil, and even tried adult dandruff shampoos. I'd clear up the deposits, but they'd keep coming back, and his skin was raw and itchy. Something was just not right.
Finally, I went back and reread the information about underlying causes. What if the natural balance of microbes on his head had been thrown out of whack by frequent exposure to the chlorinated pool? How could I restore a population of healthy, non-irritating microbes to his head? I had seem passing mentions of using kombucha to treat skin problems, but I had never tried it myself.
Enter the SCOBY…
A SCOBY is a Symbiotic Colony of Bacteria and Yeast, also called a “kombucha mother” or “kombucha mushroom”. It's used, along with sweetened tea, to brew kombucha. Since I had been kombucha for some time at this point, I had plenty of extra scobys around. As any kombucha loving mommy would do, I decided to slap a scoby on my kid's head and see what would happen. I had him put on one old, grubby t-shirt, and then used another t-shirt to wrap around his head and secure the scoby in place. (Scobys are mostly liquid – if you dehydrate one they will form a very thin sheet of leather-like material – so it dripped quite a bit.)
I left the scoby on for around 15 minutes. We repeated the process two more times over the course of a week. The second and thirds times we did it in the evening not long before he showered, so he didn't have to spend much time smelling like vinegar. By the next week, his cradle cap cleared up completely. He did get a little bit of mild dandruff this past winter when it was very cold and dry, but nothing like last winter. I'm convinced that the kombucha scoby cured his cradle cap.
We're still working on another skin issue of his, that his father dealt with when he was a boy. He's got rough, red, dry, irritated skin behind his ears. Again, I suspect the skin chemistry is out of whack, but I haven't figured out a way to correct it yet. My husband said he just grew out of it when he was younger, but I'd like to find another option. I've been working to improve his diet, but it's a slow process. I wonder if some epigenetic switch had been thrown at some point in the family history to trigger this sort of thing? I've tried coconut oil, plantain salve, comfrey salve, commercial antibiotic ointment, emu oil, petroleum jelly and a few other things. Every helps a bit, but nothing eliminates it. I tried making up a salve with blended scoby and coconut and olive oil, but it was messy and didn't help much. Then it got moldy. Not good. I suppose I could cut strips of scoby and drape it over the back of his ears, but that would be really messy.
Any thoughts from my natural healing friends? The doctors say OTC creams or steroid creams. I've tried OTC and steroids are not appealing. Have you used kombucha (or other ferments) topically before? I'd love to hear your stories and suggestions.