Cradle Cap

Medically Reviewed by Poonam Sachdev on May 01, 2023

Cradle cap is a common skin condition in newborns and babies that causes rough patches on their scalp. It's also known as infantile seborrheic dermatitis. 

When you see these rough patches on your baby’s head, you might worry that it’s something serious. 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.

Doctors don’t know exactly what causes cradle cap. But they think rough patches may show up when oil glands in your baby’s skin make more oil than they need to. Doctors think the extra oil may cause dead skin cells to stick to the scalp. A type of yeast called malassezia may also play a part in the condition.

Cradle cap doesn't spread from person to person.

Cradle cap tends to appear between the 2-6 weeks of life. You may notice:

  • A greasy, patchy scalp. The skin on your baby’s scalp may look greasy. They may have white or yellow patches of scales on their scalp. Over time, the scales may flake off.
  • Changes in scalp color. Sometimes, the skin on your baby’s scalp may just show as a different color, rather than scaly or flaky. Cradle cap doesn’t feel itchy to your baby, although it looks like it might be.
  • Hair loss. It’s rare, but a baby may lose hair where they have cradle cap. The hair should grow back after the cradle cap goes away.
  • Cradle cap on other parts of the body. Aside from the head, it can also show up the face, behind the ears, the diaper area, and the armpits.

Your baby won’t need to take any tests for the doctor to diagnose cradle cap. Your doctor will only have to see their skin. 

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

  • 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. If a mild baby shampoo doesn’t work, ask your doctor about medicated products. 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 their hair with a soft baby brush or comb. The scales should loosen and fall off over time. Make sure to go easy, though.
  • Lubricate. Ask your doctor if it might help to rub some petroleum jelly (Vaseline), baby oil, or ointment into the scales on your baby’s scalp before you’ve used shampoo and a soft hair brush. 
  • 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. Your doctor may also suggest an antifungal treatment such as ketoconazole. 

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

If your baby's cradle cap is severe, your doctor may also suggest that you use a steroid cream or lotion for a short time until their skin has cleared up. 

The symptoms of cradle cap usually clear up on their own. But if they get worse with treatment or last longer than a year, you should check with your doctor. 

You should also contact your doctor if your baby: 

  • Is less than 1 month old and has pimples or blisters 
  • Has a rash that spreads beyond the scalp
  • Has an inflamed rash behind their ears
  • Seems sick 

Show Sources

Photo credit: E+ / Getty Images


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,” “Cradle cap.”

Seattle Children’s Hospital: “Cradle Cap.”

Skin of Color Society: “Seborrheic dermatitis”

Johns Hopkins Medicine: "Seborrheic Dermatitis (Cradle Cap)."

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