Cradle cap is a common skin condition in young babies, especially in the first couple months of life. It’s a form of baby eczema, but it’s rarely uncomfortable or itchy for the baby. The medical term for this inflammatory skin condition is infantile seborrheic dermatitis or seborrheic eczema.
Babies who have cradle cap may have flaky, dry skin on their scalp; or they may have oily, yellowish or brown crusting scaly patches on their head. Cradle cap can occur with or without any reddened skin. The flaky patches might shed off, flaking off when you wash your baby’s scalp. It can be similar to dandruff.
You may notice the crusting patches of cradle cap on your baby’s ears, eyebrows, eyelids, armpits, and any other oily creases on his or her body.
Although it’s not attractive, cradle cap is harmless and it will clear up on its own as your baby gets older. Cradle cap is rarely a problem in babies over 12 months old. This type of baby eczema isn’t contagious, and it has nothing to do with your baby’s cleanliness. Cradle cap is also not due to allergies.
Cradle Cap Symptoms
Cradle cap is most common in newborn babies, and it’s rare after your baby turns one year old. In a majority of babies, cradle cap has cleared up by the time they reach 8 to 12 months old.
Signs and symptoms of cradle cap in babies include the following:
- Thick crusts, or patchy scales on your baby’s scalp, eyebrows, ears, eyelids, nose, and groin.
- Skin flakes, similar to dandruff.
- Mild redness in the affected area.
- Greasy skin that’s covered with flaky yellow or white scales.
Baby cradle cap typically forms on any area of your baby’s skin that is oily or greasy. For this reason, it common affects the infant’s scalp, eyebrows and eyelids, behind the ears, creases of the nose, middle of the chest, groin, and other areas.
Your pediatrician can easily diagnose cradle cap by a physical examination. If your baby’s cradle cap isn’t getting better with home treatment, your doctor may consider other possible diagnoses. He or she may also recommend other treatment options.
What Causes Cradle Cap?
Experts do not exactly know the precise cause of cradle crap, however there are several theories. What doctors and healthcare providers do know is that cradle cap is not caused by allergies or poor hygiene.
Many doctors believe that cradle cap is caused by a combination of factors – including the hormones that the baby received from his mother just before delivery, which caused an abnormal production of oil (sebum) in the sebaceous glands in the baby’s skin.
Another potential culprit of cradle cap is irritation from yeast (called malassezia) that grows in the sebum (oil), along with bacteria. Cradle cap also appears to run in families, so there may be a genetic component as well.
There is no consensus on what exactly causes cradle cap, but fortunately it’s not contagious and it often doesn’t bother babies. Severe cradle cap may be itchy, but mild cases typically don’t itchy.
How to Treat Cradle Cap
Because cradle cap will go away on its own, it doesn’t require any treatment. However, if your infant’s flaky scalp bothers you, you can try the following treatments:
- Gently massage your baby’s scalp with a little baby oil. Wait 10-15 minutes, so that the oil has time to soften and loosen the flakes. Use your fingers, a dry washcloth, or a soft brush to brush the scales away. Shampoo your baby’s scalp afterwards.
- Shampoo your baby’s scalp once a day. Rinse out all the baby shampoo or soap. Afterwards, gently brush your baby’s scalp with a dry, terrycloth towel, or a soft brush, to remove some of the flakes.
- If your baby’s cradle cap is pronounced, and your baby is over six months old, you can use a special baby shampoos that are designed to treat cradle cap. These special seborrhea shampoos may contain salicylic acid, selenium, or tar. Be aware though that they are not “no-tear” shampoos, so use caution when using them.
- Cradle cap that is red or inflamed may be itchy to your baby, so you may want to use over-the-counter hydrocortisone cream to help reduce your baby’s itchiness.
If the above measures do not help your baby, and the cradle cap is still there, you should contact the pediatrician or your baby’s doctor. The doctor may recommend a stronger shampoo, or a different diagnosis. Sometimes, scalp ringworm infections can look like cradle cap, and your baby may need to be treated with a prescription antifungal shampoo.