What is Cradle Cap?

Babies are known for their soft, smooth skin. But many newborns can get rough, scaly patches on their scalp that seem to come out of nowhere.

When you see these rough patches on your baby’s head, you might worry that it’s something serious. But, cradle cap is common and harmless. It’s the baby form of dandruff.

This skin condition got its name because the most common place for the scaly patches to show up is on the head, where a baby would wear a cap.

You can usually get rid of it in a few simple steps. Even if you don’t do anything, it should go away on its own with time.

Causes

Doctors don’t know exactly what causes cradle cap. They think the rough patches may appear when the oil glands in your baby’s skin produce more oil than they need to.

Doctors think the glands sometimes work harder because of the influence of the mother’s hormones. They’re left over from when your baby was in your womb.

Symptoms

The skin on your baby’s scalp may look greasy. She may have white, yellow, or darker patches of scales on her scalp. (The color of the patches depends on the color of your baby’s skin.) Over time, the scales may flake off.

Sometimes, the skin on your baby’s scalp may look red, rather than scaly or flaky. Cradle cap doesn’t feel itchy to your baby, although it looks like it might be. It’s rare, but a baby may lose hair where she has cradle cap. The hair should grow back after the cradle cap goes away.

Cradle cap can also appear on other parts of the body, not just the scalp. These places are common:

  • On the face
  • Behind the ears
  • In the diaper area
  • In the armpits

Diagnosis

Your doctor will know right away if your baby has this very common condition. He will only have to see the skin on your baby’s scalp or other body parts. Your baby won’t need to take any tests for the doctor to diagnose cradle cap.

Continued

Treatment

Once you have a diagnosis, you should be able to treat your baby’s cradle cap at home with success.

  • Wash. Keeping your baby’s scalp clean helps the problem go away, since it washes away some of the extra oils. Use baby shampoo and rub it gently into the affected areas. Your doctor might tell you to wash your baby’s hair more often than you usually do.

You might need to wash it every day instead of every few days. Don’t use shampoo with ingredients that are designed for dandruff unless your doctor says that you should. Not all products are safe for infants.

  • Brush. After you clean your baby’s hair and scalp, you can gently brush her hair with a soft baby brush. The scales should loosen and fall off over time. Make sure to go easy though.
  • Lubricate. Ask your doctor if you should rub some petroleum jelly (Vaseline), baby oil, olive oil, or ointment into the scales on your baby’s scalp after you’ve used shampoo and a soft hair brush. Some parents do this and have great success.
  • Apply. Some doctors may prescribe hydrocortisone cream for cradle cap, but only if the scalp is inflamed. This usually isn’t necessary. Don't use a steroid cream unless your doctor recommends it.

Prevention

Once the cradle cap is under control, you can keep it at bay by washing your baby’s hair often enough with baby shampoo and brushing her scalp with a soft brush. Ask your pediatrician how often to wash your baby’s hair after cradle cap goes away.

Your doctor may also suggest that you use the hydrocortisone cream or another lotion or ointment after the cradle cap has stopped being a problem.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on December 22, 2016

Sources

SOURCES:

American Academy of Pediatrics: “Cradle cap.”

Nemours Foundation: “Cradle cap (infantile seborrheic dermatitis).”

American Academy of Dermatology: “Seborrheic dermatitis: Signs and symptoms.”

Mayo Clinic: “Cradle cap treatment.”

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