Cradle cap: the skin condition that somehow manages to sound cute. While its name may be more appealing that its appearance, cradle cap is a common occurrence in babies that usually goes away without medical treatment. Read on for more details on how to identify, treat, and prevent cradle cap in your newborn.
What is cradle cap?
Cradle cap is a skin condition commonly seen in newborns. About 10% of babies get cradle cap in their first three months of life. Medically, cradle cap is known as infantile seborrheic dermatitis.
Cradle cap often occurs two to six weeks after babies are born and appears as scaly patches, or a crusty and/or a red rash and dry skin on the scalp.
Cradle cap is NOT:
• Contagious, itchy, or painful
• An allergy or infection
• Caused by poor hygiene
• A reason for concern — it usually resolves on its own and is a common skin condition.
What does cradle cap look like?
Cradle cap typically presents as a flaky white or yellow rash on a baby’s scalp. The scales can be greasy or dry. Cradle cap can also look like red patches on the scalp that sometimes appear on other parts of the body as well, including the neck, ears, eyelids, nose, armpit, or groin.
Should I be worried if my baby has cradle cap?
No! While cradle cap may look uncomfortable, it is not itchy or painful for baby. It is a common condition that usually clears up on its own within a few weeks or months without medical treatment. Most babies are cradle cap-free by one year old.
What causes cases of cradle cap?
We’re still not sure. Some doctors believe it has to do with the birthing parent's hormonal changes during pregnancy that stimulate the infant’s oil glands, causing scales and redness in baby’s skin. Dead skin cells usually fall off but this excess oil causes it to “stick” to baby’s scalp.
Other experts, such as the Mayo Clinic, speculate that yeast may be a factor in causing cradle cap. This is supported by the fact that anti-fungal treatments can be effective against serious cases that require medical attention.
How do you treat cradle cap?
If your baby has cradle cap, never fear. Treatment approaches and skin care advice include:
• Do not pick. Resist the urge to pick at baby’s scalp! Picking and scratching can actually irritate baby’s skin and risk causing an infection.
• Wash more frequently. Use a mild baby shampoo to wash baby’s hair more frequently, gently massaging the scalp during washes. You can even wash it every day.
• Gently loosen scales. Use a soft-bristled brush or wash cloth to gently loosen the scales on baby’s head. Try doing this after washing baby’s hair.
• Try baby oil. If the scaling is thick or the scales don’t loosen easily after shampooing, try applying a few drops of gentle oil. Let it sit for a few minutes or a few hours before shampooing. There are also existing medicated shampoos for this condition.
• Give it time. Cradle cap usually goes away on its own and doesn’t require medical treatment. The home remedies above should help the most common symptoms subside.
Check with your baby’s healthcare provider or pediatrician if the cradle cap is severe, not improving with home treatments, or if the patches spread to your baby’s face or body.
How can you prevent baby's cradle cap?
Unfortunately, cradle cap is one of those things that just happens to some babies. Shampooing baby’s hair every 1-3 days with a mild shampoo may help prevent or reduce the symptoms of cradle cap. Like other skin conditions, cradle cap takes time to clear up and should resolve in a few months.
For more information on cradle cap and baby care, check out our Baby 101 course, which covers breastfeeding, sleep, infant CPR & choking and more.