What is cradle cap?
Cradle cap is a build-up of yellow, greasy and often scaly patches of skin, usually on your baby’s scalp.
Cradle cap appears most often in babies in the first 2 months and tends to last only a few weeks or months. It is uncommon in babies older than 3 months but may last up to 6 to 12 months in some babies.
What are the symptoms of cradle cap?
The main symptom of cradle cap is scaling on your baby’s scalp. Sometimes there might be cradle cap on the eyebrows or behind the ears.
The patches may appear on other parts of your baby’s body, such as the nappy area (groin), the nose, armpits or backs of the knees. When it appears on a part of the body other than the scalp, it is called by its medical term seborrhoeic dermatitis.
The affected skin can also appear red, flaky and a yellowish crust might also form. There can be some hair loss when the affected areas of skin loosen. Sometimes the skin might be red due to eczema underneath the cradle cap.
Cradle cap is not painful or itchy for your baby.
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What causes cradle cap?
Cradle cap happens when the skin on your baby’s scalp makes too much oil, called sebum. This prevents the skin cells from shedding properly and causes a build-up of dead skin on the scalp.
Cradle cap is not contagious and it is not caused by poor hygiene.
Research has found that babies who get cradle cap often have family members with allergy-type conditions, such as asthma and eczema. A small number of babies who have cradle cap may develop other types of seborrhoeic dermatitis, such as dandruff, when they are older.
When should I see a doctor?
See a doctor if you think your baby’s skin is infected. It may be infected if:
- the skin looks red and inflamed
- the rash is weeping or smelling
- the rash is spreading
- your baby is unwell
- the cradle cap continues to worsen after your baby is 3 months old
- your baby’s scalp is very itchy (your baby is scratching it a lot)
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How is cradle cap treated?
Cradle cap usually doesn’t need treatment. It should clear up on its own after a few months.
To get rid of the scale, you can regularly massage baby oil or Vaseline into your baby’s scalp and wash it out with baby shampoo. This should soften the crust, which you can then gently remove with a cotton bud or soft baby toothbrush.
If this doesn’t work, you can use a mild anti-dandruff shampoo. Be careful not to get it in your baby’s eyes. Don’t use anti-dandruff shampoo for more than 2 weeks on a baby.
Don’t force the crusts to come off.
Complications of cradle cap
Sometimes the skin under the cradle cap can become infected, or eczema can develop underneath it.
Both of these conditions should be treated by a doctor, who may prescribe a course of antibiotics or an antifungal cream or shampoo, such as ketoconazole. A mild steroid cream such as hydrocortisone may be recommended for an inflamed rash.
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Last reviewed: September 2021