Cradle Cap: Causes and Treatment

Are you noticing scales or flakes of skin on your baby’s scalp (or elsewhere on her body)? This may be infantile seborrheic dermatitis, better known as cradle cap. It’s basically dandruff for babies.

Although it can look a little unpleasant, it isn’t harmful. There is no quick cure for cradle cap, but there are some things you can try to help soothe your baby’s skin until it clears, which is usually after a few months or so.

What Is Cradle Cap?

Cradle cap is what seborrheic dermatitis is called when it appears on your baby’s scalp.

The skin condition can show up elsewhere, too, such as on your baby’s face on the ears, eyelids, eyebrows, and nose, or on the body on the neck, armpit, belly button, legs, and groin.

When the symptoms of cradle cap appear anywhere other than the scalp, your provider will refer to it as seborrheic dermatitis.

The good news is cradle cap isn’t contagious, and it generally isn’t painful or itchy for your little one. Plus, it won’t leave any scars.

What Does Cradle Cap Look Like?

Cradle cap typically looks like skin that has red, moist patches. It commonly appears in skin folds near the neck or behind the ears. It can sometimes look yellowish with greasy patches, or it might appear scaly or flaky.

Cradle cap does often get confused with other conditions that look like seborrheic dermatitis, such as eczema, but unlike eczema, cradle cap usually isn’t itchy or uncomfortable.

If seborrheic dermatitis appears on your little one’s groin, it’s easy to confuse with diaper rash but these conditions are not the same.

What Causes Cradle Cap?

It’s not known exactly what causes cradle cap, but experts say it’s not caused by poor hygiene or an allergy to something you’re using.

One factor may be that some of your pregnancy hormones have passed on to your baby before birth, causing the production of too much oil (sebum) in the oil glands and hair follicles, trapping dead skin cells. This is likely why the skin condition usually occurs wherever there are the most oil-producing sebaceous glands.

Another contributor may be malassezia, a yeast (fungus) that grows in the sebum along with bacteria.

How Long Does Cradle Cap Last?

Your baby is most likely to develop cradle cap between 2 weeks old and 12 months old. It’s likely to clear up on its own within weeks or months, or by the time your little one is about one year old. In some cases, this condition can return as dandruff when your child hits puberty.

Cradle Cap Treatment

Cradle cap doesn’t usually require any specialized medical treatment. You can usually treat your baby’s cradle cap yourself at home. The scales that result from cradle cap aren’t easy to remove, but these treatments may help:

  • Wash your baby’s hair frequently, even daily, with a mild baby shampoo while you bathe your baby.

  • If normal baby shampoo doesn’t seem to work, ask your healthcare provider to recommend a medicated shampoo specifically designed for cradle cap.

  • Gently comb any hair and brush over the scales with a soft bristle brush to loosen the flakes of skin. Don’t scratch or rub the skin affected by cradle cap. Wash loose flakes away with water.

  • If the scales don’t loosen, consider massaging petroleum jelly onto your baby’s scalp to help lift any stubborn, dry skin. Don’t use baby oil or mineral oil for cradle cap as it can cause more scaly buildup. Wash your baby’s hair afterward with shampoo.

Although you might have heard of a home remedy or two for cradle cap, such as coconut oil, it’s best to ask your provider before trying any of these.

When to See Your Healthcare Provider

Consult your provider if shampooing doesn’t help, if the cradle cap seems severe, or if it’s also present on your baby’s face or body. Your healthcare provider may prescribe a medicated shampoo or cream, or an anti-fungal treatment if your little one’s cradle cap doesn’t go away on its own.


Shampooing and frequent combing can help loosen the scale buildup on the scalp and help improve your baby’s cradle cap over time.

Cradle cap can look a little concerning at first, but it will clear up in time. Following the tips above as well as some general baby skin care tips can help ensure your baby’s skin is protected and healthy.

To earn points for all your purchases, including the baby wipes you’ll be using to keep your little one’s skin clean, download the Pampers Club app today.

How we wrote this article
The information in this article is based on the expert advice found in trusted medical and government sources, such as the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.
The content on this page should not replace professional medical advice. Always consult medical professionals for full diagnosis and treatment.

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