Cradle Cap

What Is Cradle Cap?

Cradle cap is a common skin condition in newborns and babies that causes rough patches on their scalp. Babies are known for their soft, smooth skin, but cradle cap is common in newborns.

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.

Cradle Cap Causes

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.

Cradle Cap Signs and Symptoms

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

  • 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 look 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.

Cradle Cap Diagnosis

Your doctor will know right away if your baby has this very common condition. They 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.

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Cradle Cap 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. 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 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.

Cradle Cap 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 their scalp with a soft brush. Ask your pediatrician how often to wash your baby’s hair after the 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 Neha Pathak, MD on August 19, 2020

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,” “Cradle cap.”

Seattle Children’s Hospital: “Cradle Cap.”

Skin of Color Society: “Seborrheic dermatitis”

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