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Children's Health

CRADLE CAP - a parent's guide


Some parents can become anxious about this harmless condition. This article looks at the cause and how to remove it.

cradle cap


  • Cradle cap is also known as seborrheic dermatitis which causes dandruff
  • About half of all babies get cradle cap
  • It causes patches of thick flaky skin on the scalp of infants
  • It normally occurs around the age of three months
  • The condition can be treated with a special shampoo or cream

What is it?

Cradle cap is a form of seborrheic dermatitis which causes patches of thick flaky areas on a baby's scalp.

Seborrheic dermatitis is an inflammation of the skin's oil glands which causes the scalp to become greasy and produce scales. It is similar to dandruff in adults and teenagers, and can also affect the skin on other parts of the body and cause eczema in the armpits, and groin area.

The reason why the scalp becomes oily in some babies is unknown, but possible explanations include hormone production in newborns which trigger an inflammation of the oil glands, or an excess of the fungus "Pityrosporum ovale" on the skin.

About half of all babies will get cradle cap.

The condition is only temporary and will eventually disappear.

What are the symptoms?

The baby will have a scaly scalp with thick patches of oily, flaky, yellow skin underneath their hair, which can become loose.

Mild cases of cradle cap look similar to dandruff.

It normally appears around age of three months and can also affect the eyebrows and behind the ears. It can also appear in a baby's skin creases.

What can be done to help?

Mild cases of cradle cap will normally respond to gentle hair washing and increased humidity in the air.

Severe cases of cradle cap can be treated with the use of prescription creams or a mild tar shampoo. Some babies are referred to a dermatologist for treatment.

A home remedy includes massaging the baby's hair with cold-pressed vegetable oil to soften the scaly skin. Leave the oil on for about 15 minutes and then use a comb to gently remove the loose skin. Wash the baby's hair afterwards with a mild shampoo.

Parents who are worried about the appearance of cradle cap can use hats to cover it.

Wash the baby's hair just once a week. Frequent use of shampoo can dry the scalp and make the condition worse.

Seborrheic dermatitis in skin creases can be treated with the use of mild steroid lotions or creams.

Getting help

Take your baby to your doctor if you are worried about severe or persistent cradle cap.

See also:

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