Healthdirect Free Australian health advice you can count on.

Medical problem? Call 1800 022 222. If you need urgent medical help, call triple zero immediately

healthdirect Australia is a free service where you can talk to a nurse or doctor who can help you know what to do.

beginning of content

Cradle cap

4-minute read

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.

Example of a baby with cradle cap.
An example of cradle cap.

CHECK YOUR SYMPTOMS — Use the rashes and skin problems Symptom Checker and find out if you need to seek medical help.

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)

FIND A HEALTH SERVICE — The Service Finder can help you find doctors, pharmacies, hospitals and other health services.

ASK YOUR DOCTOR — Preparing for an appointment? Use the Question Builder for general tips on what to ask your GP or specialist.

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.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: September 2021

Back To Top

Need more information?

These trusted information partners have more on this topic.

Top results

Cradle cap treatment: babies | Raising Children Network

Cradle cap is the oily, scaly crust that babies get on scalps and torsos and in body folds. It usually doesn’t need treatment and goes away by itself.

Read more on website

Cradle cap: symptoms, causes and self-care -

Cradle cap usually gets better on its own, within a few weeks of appearing.There are several things you can do at home (self-care) to try to improve cradle cap and treatments are available from your doctor.

Read more on myDr website

Cradle cap

Cradle cap is the name given to the yellowish, greasy scaly patches that appear on the scalp of young babies. It is very common, harmless and doesn't cause discomfort.

Read more on Pregnancy, Birth & Baby website

ACD A-Z of Skin - Seborrhoeic Dermatitis and Cradle Cap

A-Z OF SKIN Seborrhoeic Dermatitis and Cradle Cap BACK TO A-Z SEARCH What is it? Seborrhoeic dermatitis is inflammation of the skin that usually occurs on areas of the body such as the head and trunk where there are a greater number of oil glands

Read more on Australasian College of Dermatologists website

Dandruff and itching scalp - Better Health Channel

Itching scalp can be caused by a number of conditions, including dandruff, seborrhoeic dermatitis and psoriasis.

Read more on Better Health Channel website

Dandruff in children and teenagers | Raising Children Network

Dandruff is common and normal in children and teens. You can usually treat it with anti-dandruff shampoo. Read more about dandruff treatment and causes.

Read more on website

Healthdirect 24hr 7 days a week hotline

24 hour health advice you can count on

1800 022 222

Government Accredited with over 140 information partners

We are a government-funded service, providing quality, approved health information and advice

Australian Government, health department logo ACT Government logo New South Wales government, health department logo Northen Territory Government logo Government of South Australia, health department logo Tasmanian government logo Victorian government logo Government of Western Australia, health department logo

Healthdirect Australia acknowledges the Traditional Owners of Country throughout Australia and their continuing connection to land, sea and community. We pay our respects to the Traditional Owners and to Elders both past and present.