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What Is Cradle Cap and How Can I Soothe My Baby’s Skin?

Are you noticing scales or flakes of skin on your baby’s head (or elsewhere on her body)? This may be infantile seborrheic dermatitis, or cradle cap, as it’s more often known. This skin condition is quite common, and although it can look a little unpleasant, it isn’t harmful to your baby. In fact, it usually clears up within just a few months. Unfortunately, there aren’t any quick cures for cradle cap, but there are some things you can try to help soothe your baby’s skin.

What Is Cradle Cap?

Cradle cap consists of thick, crusty, oily, or scaly patches that appear on your newborn's scalp. It can sometimes be accompanied by mild redness or a rash on her head. Cradle cap may also appear on your baby’s face — including the ears, eyelids, and nose — and in the groin area. The good news is this condition isn't contagious, and it generally isn’t painful or itchy. Plus, it won’t leave any scars.

Cradle cap can be easy to confuse with conditions such as eczema or dandruff, but your healthcare provider can help confirm a diagnosis. Unlike eczema, cradle cap usually isn’t itchy or uncomfortable.

Sometimes cradle cap appears after the newborn stage, when a baby’s a little older, or is even in the toddler stage. It tends to last for only a few months, and often clears up on its own. In some cases, though, cradle cap may last a year or more, and a medicated shampoo or cream may be required to help it resolve.

Cradle Cap Causes

It’s not known 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 the mom’s pregnancy hormones are passed on to the baby before she’s born, causing the production of too much oil (sebum) in the oil glands and hair follicles, thus trapping dead skin cells. Another contributor may be malassezia, a yeast (fungus) that grows in the sebum along with bacteria.

Washing your baby's hair with a mild, baby shampoo every few days might help prevent cradle cap.

Is It Possible to Treat Cradle Cap?

You’re probably wondering how to get rid of cradle cap, but these thick, white or yellow scales aren't easy to remove. These cradle cap treatments may help:
  • Wash her hair once a day with a mild, baby shampoo as you bathe your baby. You can ask your healthcare provider to recommend a shampoo specifically designed for cradle cap.
  • Gently comb any hair and brush over the scales with a soft-bristle brush to loosen flakes of skin. Don’t scratch or rub the skin, and wash loose flakes away with water.
  • If the scales don’t loosen, consider massaging petroleum jelly into your baby's scalp to help lift any stubborn, dry skin. Wash your baby’s hair afterward with shampoo.

When to See Your Healthcare Provider

See your provider if shampooing doesn’t help; if the cradle cap seems severe; or if it has spread to your baby’s face or body. Your healthcare provider may prescribe a medicated shampoo or cream, or an anti-fungal treatment. Although you might have heard of natural or home remedies for cradle cap, it’s best to ask your doctor before trying any of these.

Cradle cap can look a little scary, but in time, it will clear up. You may also be interested in reading more about general baby skin care tips and how to treat diaper rash.

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