Cradle Cap – Symptoms and Treatment

Are you noticing scales or flakes of skin on your baby’s scalp (or elsewhere on your little one’s body)? This may be infantile seborrheic dermatitis, better known as cradle cap. It’s basically dandruff for babies.

It’s quite common in babies – according to research, about 4 out of 10 infants will get cradle cap in their first 3 months.

Although it can look a little unpleasant, it’s a harmless condition that won’t usually cause your baby any discomfort.

There isn’t any miracle treatment that promises an instant cure for cradle cap, but it usually goes away by itself within a few months. Until then, there are some things you can try to help soothe your baby’s skin until it clears.

Read on to find out all about what causes cradle cap and what you can do if your baby has it.

What Is Cradle Cap?

baby with cradle cap

Cradle cap is the common name for the greasy, yellow scaly patches that appear on the scalp of some young babies. The medical name for this skin condition is infantile seborrheic dermatitis.

If your baby does get cradle cap, the symptoms will probably start to appear sometime within the first month or second month after being born.

Although it’s most often found on the scalp, it can sometimes appear on other parts of your baby’s body as well, especially the face, ears, neck, armpits, nappy area and behind the knees.

The scales may appear in small patches, but sometimes they can cover the whole of the scalp.

As scales flake off, the surrounding skin may look red. If your baby has hair, some of it might come away with the flakes. This hair loss is only temporary though – those locks will grow back eventually.

The good news is cradle cap isn’t infectious, and it generally isn’t painful or itchy for your baby.

If your baby does seem to be bothered by itching or pain, or doesn’t seem his or her usual self, see your doctor for a diagnosis. There may be a chance that this discomfort is caused by a different skin condition like eczema that needs to be ruled out or treated if necessary.

What Causes Cradle Cap?

It’s not known exactly what causes cradle cap, but experts say it’s not caused by poor hygiene or an allergy to something you’re using.

Cradle cap isn’t infectious either, so your baby can’t catch it from another child or family member.

The main culprit is believed to be the sebaceous glands in your baby’s skin, which sometimes produce more skin-protecting oil (known as sebum) than usual in the first few weeks after birth.

It’s also thought that malassezia, a yeast that can be present on your baby’s skin, may trigger a reaction that contributes to the development of cradle cap.

Cradle Cap Treatment

baby with cradle cap getting their hair combed

Cradle cap usually clears up on its own within a few weeks or months, without the need for any specialised medical treatment.

Still, the following treatments for cradle cap can help slow or prevent the build-up of scales on your baby’s scalp:

  • Wash your baby’s hair regularly with a mild baby shampoo while bathing your baby
  • If normal baby shampoo doesn’t seem to work, ask your pharmacist, health visitor or doctor to recommend a soap substitute or a shampoo specifically designed for cradle cap
  • After washing your baby’s hair, brush the scalp and any hair with a soft brush to loosen the flakes, which can then be rinsed away
  • Resist the temptation to pick the scales off, as this could cause an infection
  • If the scales don’t loosen, consider massaging white petroleum jelly or vegetable oil onto your baby’s scalp to help soften the scales. Leave the ointment on to soak overnight and then wash it off with a baby shampoo in the morning. (Don’t use peanut oil for this, as it might cause an allergic reaction.)

When to Call Your Doctor

You can usually treat your baby’s cradle cap yourself at home, but it’s advisable to consult with your doctor if the cradle cap covers your little one’s body or doesn’t seem to get any better after a few weeks of treatment.

Also, see a doctor if the crusts are bleeding or leading fluid, or if there’s any swelling.


What gets rid of cradle cap fast?

There’s no miracle cure for cradle cap, but it usually clears up by itself within a few weeks or months. Washing your baby’s hair frequently with a mild shampoo, followed by brushing with a soft brush can help loosen the scales and improve your baby’s cradle cap over time.

Do all babies get cradle cap?

Not all babies get cradle cap, but it’s quite a common complaint among newborns. Research suggests that around 4 out of 10 infants under 3 months of age will get cradle cap.

Does cradle cap make hair fall out?

When the scales flake off, some hair may come away with them, but the hair does grow back sooner or later. You can try softening that scales by washing your little one’s hair with a baby shampoo or massaging in some baby oil. Use a soft brush to gently loosen the scales after this but avoid the temptation to pick them off.

Do toddlers get cradle cap?

Cradle cap usually affects babies who are less than three months old, so it’s rare in toddlers. If your toddler does seem to show symptoms of cradle cap, it might be worth seeing your doctor to rule out any other, similar skin conditions.

baby with shampoo in their hair

Cradle cap can look a little worrying at first, but it’s usually harmless and will clear up in time. Following the tips above as well as some general baby skin care tips can help you ensure that your baby’s skin is protected and healthy.

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