All You Need to Know About Cradle Cap in Babies

Cradle Cap Babies

There is a skin condition that affects many babies you need to know about. It causes your baby to have thick, scaly, white or yellow, crusty, flaky scalp patches. If it spreads to your babies ears, eyelids, face, diaper areas, or other parts of your baby’s body, it is called infantile seborrheic dermatitis. Yikes! That sounds horrifying, but take a deep breath, because it is not.

That is just the description of cradle cap. It is not dangerous, infectious, contagious, itchy, or painful. It goes away on its own in a few weeks or months. You can usually manage it without the help of your baby’s doctor.

What’s Cradle Cap?

Cradle cap is probably caused by too much oil – called sebum – being produced by your baby’s skin glands and hair follicles. The reason this happens is not known. It may be that hormones passed from mom to baby during pregnancy stimulate overproduction of sebum. Another cause could be yeast that grows in the excess oil on the skin. In any case, it has nothing to do with not keeping your baby clean enough.

When this condition is just in your baby’s scalp, the proper name is cradle cap. When the condition spreads to other areas your child’s body like the face, neck, armpits, or other skin creases, the proper name is infantile seborrheic dermatitis.

Cradle cap in an older child or an adult is called dandruff. Dandruff can be long-term condition. Cradle cap goes away in a few weeks or months as sebum production decreases to normal. Cradle cap or infantile seborrheic dermatitis can be confused with infantile eczema. They look similar, but infantile eczema is caused by dry skin, is very itchy, and tends to be a long-term condition.

How to Manage Cradle Cap

Actually, you probably don’t need to do much of anything. Cradle cap will go away in time, and it is not bothering your baby. But, it is hard to look at, so you will want to do something. The best thing is just a daily shampoo with a mild baby shampoo. Message your baby’s’ scalp gently when you shampoo, but don’t try to scrape the scales away. This could cause irritation. After washing, use a soft brush to brush away any loose scales.

Avoid over-the-counter medicated creams, lotions, or dandruff shampoos. Some sources suggest baby oil or petroleum jelly to loosen the scales, but remember that cradle cap is caused by too much oil. According the the American Academy of Pediatrics, adding more oil is not helpful or necessary.

Once cradle cap is under control, you can keep it from coming back by shampooing and brushing about twice per week.

When to Call for Help

If cradle cap is not going away or spreads to areas away from your baby’s scalp (becomes seborrheic dermatitis), give your baby’s doctor a call. Your baby’s doctor may recommend a medicated shampoo, or a medicated skin cream. Call for an appointment if:

  • Your baby seems bothered or fussy. Cradle cap should not itchy or painful.
  • Your baby has hair loss along with cradle cap.
  • Your baby’s scalp becomes red, thick, or warm, which could mean an infection.

Cradle cap is one of those things that babies get. It is just a part of being a baby. No reason to panic. You got this.

Christopher Iliades
Dr. Chris Iliades is a medical doctor with 20 years of experience in clinical medicine and clinical research. Chris has been a full time medical writer and journalist since 2004. His byline appears in over 1,000 articles online including EverydayHealth, The Clinical Advisor, and Healthgrades. He has also written for print media including Cruising World Magazine, MD News, and The Johns Hopkins Children's Center Magazine. Chris lives with his wife and close to his three children and four grandchildren in the Boston area.

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