Learn about the symptoms, treatments and home care tips for this short-lived type of seborrheic dermatitis that's common in infants.
Cradle cap causes crusty or oily scaly patches on a baby's scalp. The condition isn't painful or itchy. But it can cause thick white or yellow scales that aren't easy to remove.
Cradle cap usually clears up on its own in weeks or a few months. Home care measures include washing your baby's scalp daily with a mild shampoo. This can help you loosen and remove the scales. Don't scratch cradle cap.
If cradle cap persists or seems severe, your doctor may suggest a medicated shampoo, lotion or other treatment.
Cradle cap is characterized by scaly patches on a baby's scalp. You may notice thick, yellow patches of skin. The patches may be crusty or greasy.
Common signs of cradle cap include:
Similar scales may also be present on the ears, eyelids, nose and groin.
Cradle cap is common in newborns. It usually isn't itchy.
Cradle cap is the common term for infantile seborrheic dermatitis. It's sometimes confused with another skin condition, atopic dermatitis. A major difference between these conditions is that atopic dermatitis usually causes significant itching.
See your baby's doctor if:
The cause of cradle cap isn't known. One contributing factor may be hormones that pass from the mother to the baby before birth. These hormones can cause too much production of oil (sebum) in the oil glands and hair follicles.
Another factor may be a yeast (fungus) called malassezia (mal-uh-SEE-zhuh) that grows in the sebum along with bacteria. Antifungal treatments, such as ketoconazole, are often effective, supporting the idea that yeast is a contributing factor.
Cradle cap isn't contagious, and it's not caused by poor hygiene.
Shampooing your baby's hair every few days can help prevent cradle cap. Stick with a mild baby shampoo unless your baby's doctor recommends something stronger.
Cradle cap usually doesn't require medical treatment, as it usually goes away on its own. In the meantime, wash your baby's hair once a day with mild baby shampoo. If the scaling is heavy, apply mineral oil to the scalp for a couple of hours before shampooing. Then wash the hair as usual and brush the scalp lightly with a soft brush to loosen the scale.
If frequent shampooing doesn't help, talk with your baby's doctor about products that might help, such as a low-potency hydrocortisone cream or a shampoo with 2 percent antifungal ketoconazole medication. Be sure the shampoo doesn't get in your baby's eyes, as it may cause irritation.
Don't use over-the-counter cortisone or antifungal creams without talking to your baby's doctor, because some of these products can be toxic when absorbed through a baby's skin. Dandruff shampoos that contain salicylic acid aren't recommended for use in babies either, because they can be absorbed through the skin.
The following over-the-counter treatments and home care tips can help you control and manage cradle cap.
If your baby's cradle cap doesn't improve with home care measures or starts to spread, make an appointment with your baby's pediatrician. Here's some information to help you prepare for your visit.
Your baby's doctor will want to know: