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Cradle Cap

What is cradle cap?

Cradle cap is a common skin disorder affecting newborn babies, usually those younger than three months of age. The medical name for this condition is infant seborrheic dermatitis.. It is generally not uncomfortable for the infant, except in severe cases when it may be itchy. Cradle cap in children, teenagers and adults is usually known as seborrheic dermatitis, or seborrhea. Seborrheic dermatitis can affect any part of the body, whereas cradle cap is usually restricted to the scalp and face

What is the difference between cradle cap, eczema and psoriasis?

Cradle cap is a form of seborrheic dermatitis, which is a form of dermatitis, or skin inflammation. It is related to eczema, or atopic dermatitis, another form of dermatitis. However, seborrheic dermatitis is not as itchy or inflamed as atopic dermatitis. For more information, see this resource on atopic dermatitis.

Psoriasis is not a form of dermatitis, but it is often difficult to distinguish between psoriasis and dermatitis. Psoriasis, like seborrheic or atopic dermatitis, can affect the scalp or skin fold area. It is an inflammatory skin disorder, often appearing as red skin overlaid with white, flaky areas, which leads some people to confuse it with seborrheic dermatitis. However, psoriasis is caused by an overactive immune system causing inflammation, which causes new skin cells to be produced and pushed to the surface too quickly. Because the body cannot shed these cells quickly enough, they build up on the skin surface and form red, scaly, itchy plaques.

Can older children, teenagers and adults get cradle cap?

Yes, although in older children, teenagers and adults it is generally not known as cradle cap, but is instead called seborrheic dermatitis or seborrhea. Dandruff of the scalp is a mild form of seborrheic dermatitis commonly found in teenagers and adults.

Signs and symptoms of cradle cap

Cradle cap usually occurs on the parts of the body that have the highest density of oil-producing (sebum) glands, which produce an oily, waxy substance. The parts of the body that are affected by cradle cap in babies include:

  • The scalp
  • The eyelids
  • The face, around the nose, chin and mouth
  • The forehead, the back of the ears or the back of the neck
  • In other skin folds, for example in the armpits, inner elbows and backs of the knees
  • The buttocks, gluteal cleft (groove between the buttocks), upper thighs and lower abdomen (the diaper area)

Good to know: Another rash that commonly affects the diaper area of infants and toddlers is diaper rash, also known as nappy rash. If a baby has irritated, itchy skin on other parts of their body, they may have baby eczema, a form of atopic dermatitis. If your baby has itchy skin or you are concerned that they may have a skin condition, why not do a free symptom assessment using the Ada app?

In cases of seborrheic dermatitis in toddlers, older children, teenagers and adults, other parts of the body can be affected. The general appearance of cradle cap/seborrheic dermatitis is the same in infants, toddlers, children, teenagers and adults.

What does cradle cap look and feel like?

Cradle cap usually appears as a yellow or brown scaly layer on a baby’s scalp, that may look oily or waxy. The skin usually looks normal underneath the scales. However, the appearance of cradle cap can vary. It can also present as:

  • Mild, patchy scales
  • Extensive, thick scaly patches
  • Thick, oily yellow scales
  • Brown crusting patches
  • Red skin surrounded by pink patches; this is more common in skin fold areas
  • Swollen areas of skin - more common in skin folds

Cradle cap is not the result of bacteria, an allergy or an infection and should not feel hot to the touch, itch, smell or weep fluids. If the rash feels warm, smells bad or weeps fluids, infection may have occurred, and medical help should be sought.

Good to know: Whether or not cradle cap itches can vary depending on who is affected, which body part is affected, and how severe the problem is. Although babies are often not bothered by it, affected adults can experience considerable itching or even burning, especially when the rash affects the ear. However, although cradle cap is not always itchy, other skin conditions affecting babies do itch. These include diaper rash and atopic dermatitis, as well as ringworm. If you are concerned that your baby may have a skin condition, you can do a free symptom assessment using the Ada app at any time.

Cradle cap in toddlers, older children, teenagers and adults

Cradle cap is most common in babies younger than six months of age and often appears within the first few weeks of life. It usually goes away once the baby is older than nine months of age. In older children, conditions that cause symptoms that look like cradle cap include:

Good to know: Atopic and contact dermatitis, impetigo, psoriasis and ringworm, which are also common skin conditions in babies and young children, can be easily distinguished from cradle cap as they are all itchy. Cradle cap is not usually itchy in babies unless it is very severe.

Cradle cap can spread to the diaper area, but diaper rash is a separate condition, which manifests as irritated, tender and red skin. This is caused by the infant’s skin coming into contact with a diaper that is soiled by urine or feces.Babies with diaper rash tend to be irritable because of the discomfort.For more information, see this resource on diaper rash.

What causes cradle cap in babies and adults?

What causes cradle cap is not entirely certain, but in babies it may be the result of overactive oil-producing sebaceous glands, which are stimulated by the mother’s hormones. These glands produce sebum, an oily or waxy substance that lubricates and waterproofs the skin.

Another factor contributing to cradle cap or seborrhea in adults may be the colonization of the sebaceous glands by natural yeasts, specifically particular subspecies of the genus Malassezia. It is possible that these yeasts do not cause cradle cap, but rather take advantage of the overproduction of sebum that is already happening.

It is also likely that stress, chemical irritants and dry, cold weather may play a role in causing cradle cap. Cradle cap is not caused by bacteria, allergies, lack of hygiene or lack of care. It is not contagious.

Cradle cap can be treated quite easily and will usually clear up within a few weeks or months.

In older people, cradle cap, or seborrheic dermatitis, can be caused by the same factors that lead to the condition in infants.

Diagnosis of cradle cap and seborrheic dermatitis

To diagnose cradle cap or seborrheic dermatitis, a doctor will make a visual inspection of the affected skin. Blood and other laboratory tests are not usually needed.

However, if the condition does not improve with treatment, it is possible that it is not cradle cap or seborrhea, but something that looks similar such as psoriasis or an allergic reaction. In such cases it may be necessary to return to the doctor and possibly undergo tests to determine what is causing the problem. If you are concerned that you or your baby may have this condition, you can do a free symptom assessment using the Ada app.

How is cradle cap treated?

Mild cradle cap can be treated at home with easily available remedies like baby shampoo, baby oil, or almond or olive oil. A pharmacist may recommend trying petroleum jelly or coal tar shampoo. In most cases, these monitoring and home remedies do work. However, if the rash bleeds, oozes fluid, is hot to the touch or spreads extensively, it is very important to see a doctor. In more severe cases, a doctor may prescribe:

  • Topical steroids such as hydrocortisone
  • Antifungals such as ketoconazole or imidazole

Remedies for cradle cap

Home remedies can be effective in reducing discomfort and improving symptoms of mild or moderate cradle cap. More severe, or persistent, cases may need specialized treatments prescribed by a doctor. How long treatment is necessary for depends on the method being used and how severe the condition is.

Home remedies for cradle cap

Cradle cap in babies can be treated at home. One way to treat cradle cap is to warm a small amount of clean, natural oil such as jojoba, almond, coconut or olive oil, and massage it into the affected area. After 15 minutes, the flakes can be gently brushed off. The area should then be thoroughly shampooed, with special care taken to ensure that no oil remains on the skin. Flakes can be removed from the skin by softly brushing with a soft brush or terry cloth towel. Do not scratch the scalp with fingernails or other implements, as this may break the skin.

White petroleum jelly can be applied daily to the baby’s scalp and is known to soften scales, which can then be brushed off. Regular washing with baby shampoo is also useful. In some cases, coal tar shampoo may be used, but this can sometimes irritate the skin. The same is true for shampoos devised to control dandruff on adult scalp; as these can sting, they are not very suitable for use on babies.

Good to know: There is some controversy about the efficacy of olive oil in the treatment of cradle cap. Some studies have shown that olive oil disturbs the natural skin barrier, but others have cast doubt on this.General moisturizing lotions are also generally not used to treat or relieve cradle cap, as they contain fatty acids that may worsen the condition. Moisturizers designed specifically for use on skin affected by seborrheic dermatitis are available, and a doctor or dermatologist may be able to advise on which to use.

Other treatment options

Severe, persistent or recurrent infantile seborrheic dermatitis can be treated with shampoos, creams, and gels. Hydrocortisone, imidazole or ketoconazole are all available as prescription creams or gels for use in the treatment of severe cases of cradle cap. Imidazole or ketoconazole creams are applied several times a week, while hydrocortisone cream is applied daily.

Good to know: Steroid creams may help relieve inflammation and itching in the short term but, as they can lead to recurrence of symptoms, and have other side-effects, they should not be used for long periods.

Prevention of cradle cap and seborrheic dermatitis

Cradle cap cannot be prevented. However, it is easily treated and need not affect the infant’s quality of life. Not all infants will be affected by cradle cap. Some ways of reducing the chance of skin irritation include:

  • Making sure that all traces of shampoo, soap or cleansers are rinsed off the body during bathing, to reduce the chance of skin irritation
  • Dressing the baby in well-fitting clothing that allows air to circulate, reducing the chances of skin irritation
  • Choosing clothes made of natural rather than artificial fibers, as these improve air circulation and moisture regulation


Q: Does cradle cap itch?
A: Cradle cap in babies can, but does not always, itch. Adults with seborrheic dermatitis of the scalp, ears and/or body appear to be more itchy than babies with cradle cap of the scalp. Severe cases of cradle cap do itch.

Q: Can cradle cap cause hair loss?
A: In cases of significant cradle cap or seborrheic dermatitis, sometimes the process of brushing or combing the scalp to loosen and remove scales can cause some hair to come away along with the scales. While this may be distressing to the adults concerned, the hair will grow back and the hair loss is therefore only temporary.

Q: Does cradle cap have a smell?
A: In some cases, cradle cap may have a slight oily smell. This is due to the buildup of oil/sebum from sebaceous glands that causes cradle cap. However, cradle cap should not have an unpleasant smell. If an unpleasant smell is detected, the rash may have been infected by bacteria, and the affected person should be examined by a doctor or nurse.

Q: Can cradle cap cause sores?
A: Generally, cradle cap manifests only as oily flakes. Occasionally, the skin beneath the flakes is red and swollen. However, if the skin begins to weep, feels hot, and develops sores, it is possible that the skin has become infected or may become infected by bacteria, and the affected person should be examined by a doctor or nurse.

Q: Can cradle cap be black in color?
A: No. If black spots are appearing on the scalp, it is not simple cradle cap - a fungal infection may be affecting the scalp. The affected person should be examined by a doctor to determine exactly what might be causing the spots. An antifungal cream may be prescribed if the cause is a fungal infection.

Q: Can cradle cap come back once it has cleared up?
A: In babies, cradle cap usually clears up on its own by the age of six months. It may recur after treatment, possibly several times, until the oil-producing glands settle down.

Q: Can cradle cap come back in later life?**
A: There is some evidence that people who had cradle cap as infants may experience a recurrence of the problem at puberty. When affecting older people, cradle cap is known as seborrheic dermatitis or seborrhea. Teenagers and adults who have seborrheic dermatitis may have recurrent flare-ups throughout life. Often these flares are triggered by cold, dryness, or stress.

Q: Is there a link between cradle cap/seborrheic dermatitis and thrush?
A: Thrush is caused by a kind of yeast called Candida, which often affects the genital area but can also colonize other parts of the body. In some people, especially those with HIV-related seborrheic dermatitis, there appears to be some evidence that having candida in the gut may increase the risk of developing seborrheic dermatitis.

Q: Can cradle cap affect facial hair, such as eyebrows, beards and mustaches?
A: Yes. In adults, seborrheic dermatitis can affect the facial skin beneath facial hair. In infants, the skin beneath the hair of the eyebrows can be affected.


Cradle cap

Cradle cap is a harmless skin condition that's common in babies. It usually clears up on its own, but there are things you can try to make it better.

Check if your baby has cradle cap

Image of cradle cap crusts on a baby's head.


Image of cradle cap with red skin on a baby's head.


Image of cradle cap on a baby's eyebrows and around nose.


Cradle cap is not itchy or painful and does not bother your baby.

It's not clear what causes cradle cap. It cannot be caught from another baby.

Things you can try to get rid of cradle cap


  • wash your baby's hair regularly with mild, unperfumed baby shampoo and gently loosen flakes with a soft brush

  • gently rub on baby oil or vegetable oil to help soften the crusts

  • use baby oil, vegetable oil or petroleum jelly overnight and wash with baby shampoo in the morning


  • do not use olive oil – recent research has found it may not be suitable for use on skin

  • do not use peanut oil (because of the allergy risk)

  • do not use soap

  • do not use adult shampoos

  • do not pick crusts – this can cause an infection


Hair may come away with the flakes, but do not worry, your baby's hair will soon grow back.

You can ask a pharmacist:

  • about cradle cap treatments

Find a pharmacy

Non-urgent advice: See a GP if:

  • the cradle cap is all over your baby's body
  • the crusts leak fluid or bleed
  • the affected areas look swollen
  • there's no improvement after a few weeks of treatment

These could be signs of an infection or another condition, like eczema or scabies.


Coronavirus (COVID-19) update: how to contact a GP

It's still important to get help from a GP if you need it. To contact your GP surgery:

  • visit their website
  • use the NHS App
  • call them

Find out about using the NHS during COVID-19

Page last reviewed: 24 January 2019
Next review due: 24 January 2022

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Cradle Cap (Seborrheic Dermatitis) in Babies

While cradle cap definitely isn’t cute, happily it’s not permanent, either. Also known as seborrheic dermatitis, this skin condition usually begins in the first three months of baby’s life and may linger through the first year (though more often, it runs its flaky course by the time baby is 6 months old).

Fortunately, in most cases cradle cap won’t bother baby — and there are a few simple steps you can take to prevent and treat it.

What is cradle cap?

Cradle cap is an inflammatory skin condition that appears as scaly skin that can be red (smaller than infant acne) and yellow crusty scales and flakes. It usually starts on baby's scalp and is sometimes seen on the eyebrows, nose, neck, groin, armpits and eyelids.

Your baby's cradle cap can feel itchy, so without proper treatment some older infants may scratch affected areas, which can lead to redness, bleeding and infection.

What causes cradle cap?

No one knows for sure what causes this harmless skin condition, which tends to run in families. Some experts speculate that cradle cap occurs because a mom’s pregnancy hormones remain in baby’s system for some time after birth, causing the sebaceous glands in some infants' scalps to go into overdrive. In turn, these glands produce an oil slick, which traps old skin cells on top of baby's head and the surrounding skin, resulting in flakes and rash.

A type of yeast found on the skin may play a role in the development of cradle cap.

How to treat cradle cap

Most cases of cradle cap are mild, with greasy surface scales appearing on the scalp. Different techniques and products work for different babies. Here are a few to try with your child:

Continue Reading Below

  • Mineral oil or petroleum jelly: Massage either into baby’s scalp to loosen the scales. Follow with a thorough shampoo to remove skin flakes and oil. Avoid olive oil.
  • Brush baby’s scalp: Gently use a soft brush on baby’s scalp a few times a day, including after shampooing, to loosen up scales. Be sure to wash the brush daily with soap and water to remove skin and oil residue.
  • Breast milk: Try rubbing a bit of this natural wonder onto the affected area — it may also help ease the flakes.
  • Natural shampoos and treatments: A number of mild, non-medicated shampoos are specifically made for baby cradle cap. Use daily until you don’t see scales, then use just twice a week. There are plenty of options, so if one product doesn’t seem to have any effect on your baby after a week or two of use, try another.

Treating Cradle Cap

How to prevent cradle cap

Unfortunately, there is no way to prevent cradle cap — though there are steps you can take to lessen the symptoms:

  • The condition usually worsens when the scalp sweats, so keep your baby's head as cool and dry as possible.
  • Forgo a hat unless it’s sunny or cold out. Remove it when you’re indoors or in a heated car.

When to call the doctor about your baby's cradle cap

Check with the doctor if your baby has a case that won’t respond to any of the above treatments (with heavy flaking and/or brownish patches and yellow crustiness). Your baby may benefit from the daily use of an antiseborrheic shampoo that contains selenium sulfide or salicylic acid (there are some no-tear formulas). Because these shampoos can irritate a baby’s delicate skin, only use them with your doctor’s recommendation.

Also see your pediatrician if you notice your baby’s scalp is draining fluid or pus or has become very red — it could indicate a bacterial or fungal infection that requires medication.

The seborrheic rash may spread to the face or buttocks. In severe cases, your child’s doctor will likely prescribe a topical cortisone cream or ointment. Make sure to follow all directions for application (more is not always better!).

From the What to Expect editorial team and Heidi Murkoff, author of What to Expect When You're Expecting. What to Expect follows strict reporting guidelines and uses only credible sources, such as peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions and highly respected health organizations. Learn how we keep our content accurate and up-to-date by reading our medical review and editorial policy.

  • What to Expect the First Year, 3rd edition, Heidi Murkoff.
  • American Academy of Dermatology, Seborrheic Dermatitis, 2020.
  • KidsHealth from Nemours, Cradle Cap, February 2019.
  • National Eczema Association, Seborrheic Dermatitis.
  • The Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology, Optimizing Treatment Approaches in Seborrheic Dermatitis, February 2013.

How to Get Rid of Cradle Cap on Your Baby’s Eyebrows and Forehead

It’s no secret that babies have soft, delicate skin that’s prone to a wide variety of relatively harmless conditions — even if you’re doing all the right things in terms of bathing and protecting your little one.

So rest assured, if your baby is dealing with cradle cap, it’s not a statement about your parenting abilities! This somewhat unsightly dermatological condition might be embarrassing, but it’s also incredibly common.

So, what is cradle cap? Why does it sometimes appear on baby’s eyebrows, and how can you banish those flakes? Read on to learn more.

What is cradle cap?

Cradle cap is a common term used for seborrheic dermatitis, or a skin rash that specifically appears on a baby’s scalp. However, cradle cap can also extend to other areas, including the eyebrows.

It’s a noninfectious skin condition that often occurs in infants. Cradle cap can appear as early as a few weeks after birth and tends to disappear within a few months.

Symptoms of cradle cap on the eyebrows

Going off the name “cradle cap,” parents may assume their baby has atopic dermatitis (a type of eczema and a common skin condition) if they notice patches on their little one’s eyebrows or forehead.

But unlike other skin rashes such as eczema, cradle cap doesn’t cause discomfort like itchy skin.

Along with the scalp, areas where cradle cap might appear include baby’s:

  • eyebrows
  • ears
  • back of the neck
  • skin folds
  • diaper area

The condition does have telltale symptoms, such as:

  • patchy scales
  • oily or dry skin with flaky white or yellow scales
  • skin flakes
  • redness

Why does it happen?

Experts still don’t know what specifically causes cradle cap, let alone on your little one’s eyebrows.

But theories center around the possibility that hormones may pass from the birthing parent to the baby before they’re born. This may lead to excessive oil (sebum) production in the hair follicle’s oil glands.

Another theory proposes that yeast known as Malassezia, which grows in sebum, may cause the condition to occur.

Cradle also cap tends to run in the family, which can make a baby more predisposed to experience the condition.

What you can do to treat it

Knowing that cradle cap isn’t painful and tends to clear up on its own is a relief, but it’s only natural that you’d want your baby’s face to be flake-free.

Along with practicing patience, there are a few at-home treatment options available to you to (possibly) help speed things up.

Use a gentle baby shampoo

It’s tempting to think that cradle cap is a sign of skin irritation and that you shouldn’t wash baby’s hair or face as frequently. However, the reverse is true.

Cradle cap is thought to be caused by overactive oil glands. So, leaving your baby’s face and hair unwashed will slow recovery.

Use a mild, tear-free, and baby-safe body wash or shampoo on the affected area, whether it’s the eyebrows, forehead, or scalp.

Massage the area

While you’re cleaning baby’s face, use a gentle washcloth to massage the skin under and around their eyebrows. Doing this will help loosen any flaky skin or scales. Avoid scrubbing at their skin, however.

Moisturize with a pre-poo treatment

Depending on the severity of your baby’s eyebrow cradle cap, you might need to apply a gentle oil to their brows before you wash their face. This is because the scales or flakes may be too thick or hard to come off with just soap and water alone.

To do this, apply a plant oil like jojoba, coconut, or almond oil to your baby’s brows and massage it in. (Avoid using olive oil, which can irritate the skin.)

Let the oil sit for 15 minutes to help soften the flakes or scales. This way, when you wash and massage your baby’s face, they’ll come off easier.

Just remember: You don’t want to leave the oil on your baby’s face. Doing so can make cradle cap worse because the oil will block their glands.

Brush your baby’s brows

If your baby has flakes or scales on their brows, this tip might be useful. Just like you brush your baby’s hair every day (if they have hair!), you’ll want to brush their eyebrows to help loosen and remove flakes.

Remember to be gentle and use a soft-bristled brush once per day. In many cases, you can find baby brushes specifically designed for cradle cap that are intended to be gentle and prevent irritation.

Try baby-safe anti-dandruff products

Cradle cap is often placed into the same category as dandruff for treatment solutions. But using adult-strength anti-dandruff products on your baby isn’t advised: These items usually contain the active ingredient pyrithione zinc, which is too strong for your baby’s skin.

As an alternative, plenty of baby-safe balms and shampoos have been designed to specifically lift scales and flakes while also helping to moisturize baby’s skin — without clogging their oil glands.

Does it eventually go away on its own?

It can be frustrating to see your baby’s beautiful face covered in cradle cap scales. What’s most important is that for the most part, cradle cap isn’t infectious and can’t be passed between babies.

But take heart that the condition is almost always temporary.

Cradle cap usually appears between 2 to 6 weeks after birth and clears up within a few months, and it rarely extends beyond infancy. However, there have been cases where children continue to experience it through age 2 or 3.

Talk with your child’s pediatrician if you’re concerned

When it may be something more

While most cases of cradle cap can be managed at home, in a few cases you’ll want to talk with baby’s doctor. Make an appointment if:

  • Your baby’s cradle cap gets worse after at-home treatment or lasts beyond 12 months of age.
  • You notice the cradle cap is draining pus or fluid.
  • Crusts begin to form.
  • The condition is causing discomfort to your little one.

Usually, a physician will prescribe medications for more serious cases of cradle cap. And in some cases, they may prescribe antibiotics if it’s found that your baby’s skin is infected.

Treatments usually include medicated creams or shampoos.

The takeaway

As a parent, it’s easy to feel guilty every time your baby gets sick or their skin gets irritated. It’s important to remember not to beat yourself up — nothing you did (or didn’t do!) caused cradle cap to appear on their eyebrows or elsewhere.

Patience and a gentle baby skin care routine are the best things you can do to help your little one’s skin clear up.

But if your baby’s cradle cap doesn’t resolve before 12 months of age or worsens with at-home treatment, contact their pediatrician.


Cradle cap orange

Cradle Cap (Seborrheic Dermatitis) in Infants

What Causes Cradle Cap (Seborrheic Dermatitis)?

The exact cause of cradle cap isn't known. It's likely due to a combination of things. Too much skin oil (sebum) in the oil glands and hair follicles and a type of yeast found on the skin called Malassezia may play roles in the development of seborrheic dermatitis.

How Is Cradle Cap (Seborrheic Dermatitis) Diagnosed?

Health care professionals can diagnose cradle cap and seborrheic dermatitis by the way the skin looks and where the rash is. Babies with seborrheic dermatitis are usually well and the condition should get better on its own or with treatment.

How Is Cradle Cap (Seborrheic Dermatitis) Treated?

Cradle cap and seborrheic dermatitis in infants usually clears up on its own in weeks or months. In the meantime, you may want to loosen and remove the scales on your baby's scalp:

  • Wash your baby's hair once a day with mild, tear-free baby shampoo.
  • Gently remove scales with a soft brush or toothbrush.
  • If the scales don't loosen easily, apply a small amount of mineral oil or petroleum jelly to your baby's scalp. Let the oil to soak into the scales for a few minutes to several hours, if needed. Then use a soft brush or toothbrush to remove scales. Shampoo your baby's hair as usual.

If regular shampooing doesn't help, your doctor may recommend a mild steroid cream or antifungal shampoo.

For seborrhea on other parts of the body, your doctor may recommend a mild steroid or antifungal cream.

Do not use over-the-counter steroid or antifungal creams or anti-seborrhea shampoos without checking first with the doctor.

What Else Should I Know?

Sometimes seborrheic dermatitis in the diaper area or skin folds can get infected. Talk to your doctor if the rash gets worse or there are any signs of infection (the skin looks red, starts to drain fluid, or feels warm).

Cradle cap and seborrheic dermatitis in infants usually get better by 12 months of age. Seborrhea may come back around puberty as dandruff.

5 Natural Ways to Cure Cradle Cap Fast!

About cradle cap

Cradle cap is the oily, yellow, scaly crusts babies often get on their scalps and sometimes on their torsos and in their body folds.

It happens if your baby’s skin makes too much oil (sebum), probably because mum’s hormones are still circulating in your baby’s blood after birth. This extra oil interferes with the natural shedding of skin on your baby’s scalp and creates a build-up of dead skin over the scalp.

Cradle cap might also happen if your baby’s immune system overreacts to the presence of yeast on their scalp. This overreaction causes inflammation.

Cradle cap isn’t contagious, dangerous or serious.

Your baby’s hair might get a bit matted because of cradle cap, but this condition won’t cause baldness or long-term hair loss.

Cradle cap mainly affects young babies. When it affects children, teenagers and adults, it’s called seborrheic dermatitis.

Symptoms of cradle cap

Cradle cap usually looks like a pale yellow, oily or waxy scale or crust at the back or on the top of your baby’s head. Sometimes the scale can spread to your baby’s eyebrows and behind their ears. Some babies even get it on their torsos.

The scale or crust is difficult to peel off. Underneath the scale or crust, you might notice inflamed or irritated skin. On children with lighter skin, the inflammation might look red. On children with darker skin, the inflammation might look brown, purple or grey.

Cradle cap won’t bother your baby because it isn’t itchy or painful.

If the rash is itchy and doesn’t go away, it might be eczema.

Baby's head showing cradle cap

Does my child need to see a doctor about cradle cap?

Probably not. But you should take your baby to see the GP for the following reasons:

  • The cradle cap doesn’t improve after two weeks with the treatment described below.
  • The skin underneath or around the crustiness is inflamed or weeping.
  • Your baby has a spreading rash in the affected areas.
  • Your baby seems irritated by the cradle cap or is scratching it.

You should also take your baby to the GP if you’re not sure whether it’s cradle cap, or your baby has signs of an infection, including fever, tiredness or poor feeding.

Cradle cap treatment

Cradle cap doesn’t need to be treated. It usually clears by itself within a few months of birth, as mum’s hormones leave your baby’s body.

If you want to get rid of the crusts, regularly massage baby oil or petroleum jelly like Vaseline into the crusts before bathing your baby. You can also add a bath oil to your baby’s bath. Use mild baby shampoo to wash this out. Over time, the crusts will soften and should lift off easily if you brush over them with a cotton bud or soft baby toothbrush.

Don’t force the crusts, because this might make your baby’s skin bleed.

If the crusts are inflamed, your GP might prescribe a combination mild corticosteroid and anti-yeast cream – for example, Hydrozole cream. Put the cream on your baby according to your GP’s instructions and the instructions on the tube or packet.

Sometimes, your GP or child and family health nurse might recommend an over-the-counter anti-dandruff shampoo. This can irritate your baby’s skin and eyes, so you should dilute it in water if you do use it. And you should use it on your baby for no more than 2 weeks.

Don’t be worried if the cradle cap comes back after treatment. This just means that your baby’s glands are still making extra oil. The cradle cap should clear by 6-12 months.


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Why does my older kid still have cradle cap?

When Hilary Dupont’s* daughter Mia was a baby, she had cradle cap (which often looks like waxy, crusty whitish or yellowish patches on the scalp). Most babies grow out of cradle cap by the time they’re three months old, but Mia’s has been hanging around well into her school years, although her thick hair mostly covers it up. When she was eight, Dupont noticed the white, crusty patches around Mia’s hairline and eyebrows, and took her to get checked out by their doctor, who prescribed a medicated shampoo. At age 10, she still has some crusty patches on her scalp, and her mom has noticed dandruff flakes in her hair. “Her dad deals with similar issues, so I wonder if this will be a lifelong thing?” says Dupont.

A. Yasmine Kirkorian, a paediatric dermatologist at Children’s National Hospital in Washington, DC says that in school-aged kids, thick waxy patches or “scales” that stick to the hair or scalp are usually called “pityriasis amiantacea” which refers to how it looks, rather than a specific diagnosis. “It’s like super dandruff, or dandruff on steroids,” she says.

There are several conditions that cause pityriasis aminatacea, so it’s important to have your family doctor, paediatrician or dermatologist have a look so it can be treated properly. If your kiddo’s scalp is itchy, for example, it could be eczema (also known as atopic dermatitis), which can be helped by over-the-counter or prescription creams. Ringworm, a fungal infection that’s fairly common in school-aged kids, can also appear on the scalp (where it’s called “tinea capitis”). “Ringworm can really fool you because it can look many different ways,” she says. “It can look like powdery, flaking dandruff or it can look like bigger clumps of flakes, rather than being distributed throughout the scalp. It can be accompanied by hair loss or broken hairs.” Tinea capitis is treated with oral anti-fungal medication or a medicated shampoo and, if needed, topical steroids to calm skin inflammation. It can be more common in people of African descent.

A mom spreading moisturizing cream on her baby's rash on her faceAn age-by-age guide to skin rashes and conditionsIf your doctor thinks you’re dealing with the non-infant version of cradle cap, it’s called seborrheic dermatitis. “It’s typically due to an excess oil production from the follicles and it’s thought to be related to a specific type of yeast species that kids come into contact with at school or at home,” says Michael Hill, a paediatrician in Newmarket, Ont. Seborrheic dermatitis doesn’t have anything to do with hygiene, and it’s not contagious, he says. Rather, it’s a combination of being a bit more predisposed to producing extra oil, which is food for the yeast that is naturally found on the skin of many people. It’s not all that common in school-aged kids but it does happen occasionally, says Kirkorian, adding that anecdotally, a close relative with the skin condition psoriasis can sometimes mean a kid is more predisposed to seborrheic dermatitis.

How to deal with it

While seborrheic dermatitis is not a cause for concern, it often doesn’t look all that great, which can bother kids or parents. It’s not necessary, but you can first treat the scalp to soften and loosen the scales with oil, such as coconut, mineral, sunflower or safflower oil, says Kirkorian. Massage a small amount of oil into the scalp and let it sit for 10 minutes or so while you and your kid read a book together. “Don’t use olive oil. It will actually feed the yeast that lives on the scalp and causes dandruff,” says Kirkorian. Lavender, mustard and tea tree oils, or shampoos that contain them, can be irritating to the skin, so skip those if they are causing irritation.

After the oil (or just start with this step), wash the hair by gently massaging the scalp with an over-the-counter or prescription dandruff shampoo that contains salicylic acid, tar, zinc or selenium ingredients. “It’s often useful to rotate two or three dandruff shampoos with different ingredients: one night do this, one night do that, one night do another. The different ingredients work synergistically,” she says. Your older kid may have been washing their hair on their own for a while, but it can’t hurt to show them how massage the scalp while they’re shampooing.

Rinse the shampoo out as usual, and condition the hair if that’s what you normally do or if the dandruff shampoo is making the hair dry or brittle. You can then gently comb your child’s hair to see if you can remove any loosened flakes, but don’t comb if the hair is breaking or falling out with the plaques. Wash the hair on the same schedule you usually would, whether that’s every few days or once a week. And if your child’s scalp is sore and red, stop the treatment (and don’t start one to begin with) and check in with your doctor.

Seborrheic dermatitis can continue to flare up off and on, especially during dry, cold winter months but with the right treatment, it should end up being NBD.

Names have been changed.

Read more:
5 most common kid skin rashes and sensitivities (and how to soothe them)

When my kid gave me lice I had a meltdown

FILED UNDER:Cradle capeczemahealth service seoskin care


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