Cradle Cap

Cradle cap is common among newborns, but the symptoms typically disappear within a few months. See more pictures of skin problems.
Cradle cap is common among newborns, but the symptoms typically disappear within a few months. See more pictures of skin problems.
© Rzymanek

There are so many things to worry about as a parent with a baby in the house -- the foods your baby eats, the toys he plays with, the daycare center you use. So if you see scaly, flaky patches on your baby's scalp, you might stress out.

Your baby is most likely suffering from nothing more than a bad case of cradle cap, or infantile sebborheic dermatitis. If a child has cradle cap, thick crusting and white or yellow scales may appear on his or her head. And although it may look pretty gross, cradle cap isn't actually harmful to your baby. It's a relatively common condition among newborns. No one knows for sure what causes it, but scientists think that genetics, bacteria that live on the human skin, stress, environment and general health may have a hand in causing the scaly disorder. Fortunately, cradle cap usually goes away fairly quickly.


The goods news is that parents can easily treat and manage cradle cap. Gentle and frequent washings can help loosen and remove the scales, improving your baby's condition. If home remedies don't seem to work, a dermatologist or pediatrician can recommend other solutions, like antifungal medication or corticosteroids.

Life with a baby is far from easy, but cradle cap doesn't have to be another source of distress. It may not look particularly cute, but cradle cap is a small hurdle when it comes to raising a healthy and happy baby. Want to learn where cradle cap can occur besides the head? Read on.


What Causes Cradle Cap?

If you notice white or yellow flaky, scaly patches on your baby's head, don't panic. Cradle cap isn't the cutest thing in the world, but it's certainly nothing that you should worry about too much. In fact, cradle cap is relatively common among babies, especially in the first few months.

The exact causes of cradle cap are unknown, but some doctors believe that hormones from the mother at the end of her pregnancy cause her baby's oil glands to become overactive after birth. Other doctors think that genetics and natural bacteria on the skin play a role in the development of cradle cap. Whatever the cause, it isn't a sign of neglect, poor hygiene, allergies or illness, and it isn't contagious.


Cradle cap can vary in its severity. While some babies look like they have dry skin or dandruff on their scalp, others develop thick patches of oily, yellow flakes. There may be some redness, too. You might even notice the same condition on other areas of your baby's body, like around the ears and eyebrows or in the armpits and groin.

The good news is that, although you might find cradle cap unsightly, your baby most likely doesn't notice it. Aside from some mild itchiness, there's no evidence to suggest that it bothers your baby at all.

Now that you know what cradle cap looks like, you might want to know how to treat it. Keep reading to find out how you can use oil to remove your baby's excess oil (strange, huh?) and why adult dandruff shampoo is not OK to use on your baby's scalp.


Cradle Cap Treatment

Until your baby's cradle cap goes away, there are some simple ways to manage the condition from the comfort of your own home.

The simplest way to control cradle cap is to wash his or her hair more often. Before shampooing your baby's hair, you may want to gently rub mineral oil, baby oil or petroleum jelly on the scalp to loosen and lift the crusts and flakes. The oil will help loosen the scales so they wash off more easily. Then, wet your baby's scalp and use a small, soft brush to gently remove the patches of scales. Finally, shampoo your baby's hair with a gentle shampoo and carefully dry the head with a towel. These steps help wash off the dry scales and keep the production of scalp oil down. Don't shampoo too often, though -- too much shampooing can dry your baby's head out and cause more oil production.


If a home routine doesn't seem to control the cradle cap, ask your doctor for advice. He or she could prescribe a specially medicated baby shampoo. These products contain ingredients (like ketoconazole and selenium) that treat cradle cap and can help dissolve the scales. Unfortunately, these ingredients can irritate a baby's skin, so discuss their usage with your doctor. He or she might need to prescribe a hydrocortisone cream to ease any redness and dryness that may occur.

In rare cases, your baby may develop a yeast infection if the area becomes severely agitated. If your baby appears uncomfortable and the skin is red and itchy, contact your pediatrician or dermatologist. He or she may prescribe an anti-fungal cream to the area to treat the infection.

Even though there's a chance you and your baby will have to go to the doctor, it's unlikely that you will. Cradle cap is an easy disorder to treat. When you're a parent, cradle cap should be the last thing on your mind. And with these simple tips, cradle cap it can be. Remember not to panic; simply put a lid on that cradle cap.


Lots More Information

Related HowStuffWorks Articles


  • American Association of Dermatologists. "Seborrheic Dermatitis." (Accessed 9/2/2009)
  • BabyCenter. "Cradle Cap." (Accessed 8/20/09).
  • Mayo Clinic. "Cradle Cap." (Accessed 8/20/09).
  • ParentTime. "Cradle Cap Skin Rash Causes, Treatments, Home Remedies for Babies." (Accessed 8/20/09).
  • Web MD. "Cradle Cap." (Accessed 8/20/09).