Cradle Cap

Medically Reviewed by Poonam Sachdev on October 02, 2023
6 min read

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, crusta lacteal, honeycomb disease, milk crust, pityriasis capitis, and crib cap.

It usually develops when a baby is 1 to 3 months old. About 70% of 3-month-old babies have cradle cap. Most of the time, it goes away within 1 year. But some babies develop it around 1 or 2 years old 

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.

Hormones can also pass from you to your baby before you give birth to them. This might lead to cradle cap. These hormones can cause your baby's oil glands and hair follicles to create too much oil, called sebum.

Is cradle cap contagious?

No, cradle cap isn't contagious. It doesn't spread from person to person.

Cradle cap symptoms include:

  • 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. It can also show up on 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.

How to get rid of cradle cap

  • Wash. Keeping your baby’s scalp clean helps the problem go away, since it washes away some of the extra oils. Use unscented 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. There are also shampoos made especially for cradle cap. They'll say "cradle cap" on the label. You can also ask your baby's doctor if they suggest a specific kind of shampoo. 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 use cradle cap home remedies. It might help to rub some petroleum jelly, baby oil, a few drops of plain mineral 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.
  • Don't pick. It can be tempting to pick or scratch at the scales on your baby's head. Avoid this because it can lead to areas of raw skin that might put your baby at a higher risk of infection.


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
  • Has fluid or blood oozing from their skin
  • Has skin that feels hot to the touch
  • Has a scalp that smells bad

These symptoms might mean that your baby:

  • Has seborrheic dermatitis on other parts of their body besides their scalp
  • Has another condition that needs treatment (like atopic dermatitis or scabies)
  • Might need to use a prescription cream or shampoo
  • Cradle cap is a common skin condition that happens in newborns and babies. 
  • Cradle cap can cause rough patches, greasiness, hair loss, or color changes on your baby's scalp. 
  • The treatment for cradle cap is fairly simple and can be done at home. 

How can I get rid of my baby's cradle cap?

Wash, brush, lubricate, and apply creams to your baby's scalp. Follow instructions from your baby's doctor if you have questions about what items and products to use.

Should you pull up cradle cap?

Don't pick or pull up cradle cap scales. This can put your baby at a higher risk of infection.

What's the difference between cradle cap and eczema?

Cradle cap and eczema may look slightly similar. But cradle cap is usually thicker, greasier, and more yellow or brown. It's usually just on your baby's scalp, but it may cause redness and inflammation behind their ears, in their armpits, or around the folds of their diaper. It can cause mild discomfort.

Eczema can be itchier and might appear red or pink on lighter skin or darker than usual or purple on darker skin. Eczema may also cause your baby's skin to be a lot more sensitive than with cradle cap.