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Health Library

Cradle Cap

Cradle Cap

What is cradle cap?

Cradle cap (infant seborrheic dermatitis) is scaly patches on a baby's scalp. Cradle cap isn’t serious, but it can cause thick crusting and white or yellow scales. Some babies can also have seborrheic dermatitis in the diaper area, and on the face, neck, and trunk. Cradle cap usually clears up within the first year.

What causes cradle cap?

Researchers don't know the exact cause of this skin condition.  It is not contagious. It is not an infection or allergy. It is not caused by poor hygiene.

Who is at risk for cradle cap?

Babies between the ages of 3 weeks and 12 months are at greater risk of getting cradle cap. 

What are the symptoms of cradle cap?

Symptoms can occur a bit differently in each child. They can include dry or greasy scales on the scalp. The scalp may also appear red. It usually does not itch.

How is cradle cap diagnosed?

Cradle cap is usually diagnosed based on a physical exam of your child. The rash involved with cradle cap is unique. It can usually be diagnosed by a physical exam.

How is cradle cap treated?

Treatment will depend on your child’s symptoms, age, and general health. It will also depend on how severe the condition is.

The problem will go away on its own over time. But most parents prefer treatment because it usually helps reduce or get rid of the problem. Even with treatment, the problem may come back during the baby’s first year of life. Treatment is usually effective in helping symptoms. It may include:

  • Rubbing the scalp with baby oil or petroleum jelly to soften crusts before washing
  • Special shampoo, as prescribed by your child’s healthcare provider
  • Corticosteroid cream or lotion for a short period of time if the problem is really bad or persistent

Can cradle cap be prevented?

Cradle cap is common in young babies and does not point to poor hygiene or lack of care. The following may help prevent the buildup of scales on the scalp:

  • Use a soft bristled brush to remove the scales from the scalp.
  • Shampoo baby’s hair often.
  • Apply baby oil to the scalp after shampooing.

When should I call my child’s healthcare provider?

Most cases of cradle cap can be treated at home. If the problem doesn’t get better, you may ask your healthcare provider to prescribe an appropriate shampoo or cream. If the problem still does not get better with the prescribed medicine, tell your healthcare provider.

Key points about cradle cap

  • Cradle cap is scaly patches on a baby’s scalp.
  • Babies between ages 3 weeks and 12 months are at greater risk of getting cradle cap. 
  • The problem will go away over time.
  • Most cases of cradle cap can be treated at home by using a soft-bristled brush, frequent shampooing, and applying baby oil.

Next steps

Tips to help you get the most from a visit to your child’s health care provider:
  • Before your visit, write down questions you want answered.
  • At the visit, write down the names of new medicines, treatments, or tests, and any new instructions your provider gives you for your child.
  • If your child has a follow-up appointment, write down the date, time, and purpose for that visit.
  • Know how you can contact your child’s provider after office hours. This is important if your child becomes ill and you have questions or need advice.
 
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