If you buy something through a link on this page, we may earn a small commission. How this works.
Cradle cap is a very common skin condition in babies. Gentle oils, massage, and shampooing will usually help the appearance of this benign condition.
Cradle cap is a form of the skin condition seborrheic dermatitis that affects babies. It is not usually anything to worry about and will typically clear up on its own.
Cradle cap tends to start on the scalp, but it may appear in areas that include:
- the forehead
- the face
- the eyebrows
- skin folds, including in the armpits or behind the ears
Cradle cap affects around 70% of infants, according to the latest research.
It is most likely to appear in the first 3 months of life and disappear by the age of 1 year. It can occur between the ages of 12 months and 4 years, though this is less likely.
Cradle cap causes flaky skin on the scalp and other areas with the following symptoms:
- flakes, or scales, that appear white or yellow on the skin
- yellow crusts on the surface of the scales
- mild redness sometimes
- scales that may look greasy
Experts are not sure what causes seborrheic dermatitis. Several factors, such as the weather, hormone levels, fungal infections, and nutrition may all play a role. Allergies do not cause cradle cap.
While cradle cap looks like it might be uncomfortable or irritating, it is not usually itchy or harmful. It does not tend to bother the baby and will often go away without treatment within a few weeks or months.
Before then, there are a few methods that caregivers can try to get rid of cradle cap if they wish to:
Loosen and remove the scales
Caregivers can loosen and remove the cradle cap scales if they wish. To do this, wash the baby’s hair with a mild baby shampoo, then gently remove the scales with a soft brush or soft toothbrush.
Apply a gentle oil
Sometimes, the scales will not loosen easily. If so, apply a moisturizing agent, such as petroleum jelly or baby oil.
Leave this treatment to soak into the scales for anything between a few minutes and several hours. This should loosen the scales, making it easier to remove them with a soft brush or toothbrush.
People can also try rubbing a small amount of a gentle, natural oil, such as coconut oil, to moisturize the baby’s scalp. A 2019 review study suggests that it is safe to apply coconut oil to the skin of preterm infants. However, researchers say they need to do more studies.
People caring for infants can talk to the pediatrician before using natural remedies, including coconut oil, olive oil, or sunflower oil.
People can find these products in drug stores or choose between brands online:
If the scales are difficult to loosen, a caregiver can massage a baby friendly dandruff shampoo into the scalp for a few minutes. Then, they rinse the baby’s head before gently patting it dry.
People need to be careful when doing this because dandruff shampoo can sting if it gets in the eyes.
Shampoo the head gently
Caregivers can wash the baby’s hair using a shampoo that contains ketoconazole, selenium sulfide, coal tar, or zinc pyrithione. These products are available over the counter at most drug stores, or people can shop for baby dandruff shampoo online.
These shampoos may be irritating or drying, so consider using them every few days or even once a week.
Consider a mild medical cream
If regular shampooing does not help, a healthcare professional may recommend a mild corticosteroid cream or specialist shampoo.
Speak to a doctor before using these products because they can sometimes cause irritation or allergic reactions. Since cradle cap is a benign condition, the risks of these creams may outweigh any possible benefit.
Mild cradle cap does not usually require any treatment. The baby may need to see a doctor if the condition is severe or making them uncomfortable.
Yeast infections can sometimes develop on the affected area. If caregivers suspect the rash has become infected, they should speak to a doctor. Signs of infection include:
- the skin looks red
- the scales start to leak fluid
- the affected area feels warm
- the affected area smells unpleasant
The doctor may prescribe medication to deal with the infection. This might be an anti-yeast cream.
In rare cases, infants who have seborrheic dermatitis all over their body, suffer from diarrhea, and are not putting on weight may have a problem with their immune system. Caregivers who observe these symptoms in a baby should take them to see a doctor.
Cradle cap is a very common skin condition in babies. It does not tend to itch or bother the baby in any way. It can develop on the scalp, around the face and ears, in the diaper area or in other folds of skin.
Cradle cap does not usually require any treatment, but there are a few ways that caregivers can help to make the skin and scalp look less flaky. These include shampooing with a medicated shampoo and applying petroleum jelly or other products to the scales to help loosen them before removing.
See a doctor if the baby appears very uncomfortable or is showing signs of an infection.
Infants who have cradle cap across their body, do not seem to be putting on weight, and are suffering from diarrhea should also see a medical professional. They may have a problem with their immune system.