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What is cradle cap?

Cradle cap — the common name for a skin condition in infants that is also called seborrheic dermatitis — is common in babies between 2 weeks and 12 months of age. It typically begins on your baby’s scalp. Also called seborrhea, this kind of rash can also appear on your baby’s forehead and face, behind the ears, or in skin folds like those in the diaper area or armpits.

Symptoms of cradle cap

Cradle cap usually appears as red, scaly, crusty, or flaky patches of skin on your baby’s scalp. The scales can also appear yellow or brown in color, and can be dry or greasy. Cradle cap is not contagious or infectious, nor is it an indication of an allergy or poor hygiene. Though it appears itchy, cradle cap does not seem to cause infants discomfort or distress.

Causes of cradle cap

The cause of cradle cap, and seborrheic dermatitis in general, is not well understood. Some doctors believe that it is triggered by overactive oil glands in a baby’s skin, or by hormonal changes after birth that affect skin oil production.

Who can get cradle cap?

According to the American Academy of Family Physicians, 10% of baby boys and 9.5% of baby girls experience cradle cap. No matter how dramatic or uncomfortable it looks, cradle cap is almost always an entirely harmless condition.

Diagnosis for cradle cap

Your child’s pediatrician can diagnose cradle cap by examining your baby’s scalp and other affected areas. Cradle cap can usually be identified and managed at home without a doctor’s intervention. However, if you are concerned about your baby’s health, or they are displaying other symptoms, contact their pediatrician.

If your baby has scales or patches of irritated, itchy skin, it may not be cradle cap — as cradle cap does not usually cause itching. It may be infantile eczema, a condition that your baby’s doctor can easily diagnose.


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Treatments for cradle cap

There are very effective ways to manage your baby’s cradle cap at home. As long as you notice the scales occurring, gently wash your baby’s head with mild shampoo daily. Be sure to thoroughly rinse your baby’s scalp to avoid further irritation from residual shampoo.

Home care remedies

Massage your baby’s scalp with your fingers, a soft brush, damp washcloth, or toothbrush to loosen the scales and improve circulation to the scalp. If the scales do not come off easily, do not scratch at them. Instead, apply a small amount of mineral oil or petroleum jelly and let it soak for a few minutes or up to two hours before brushing and shampooing. Do not use baby oil.


If home care is not treating your baby’s cradle cap, your pediatrician may recommend a mild steroid ointment (like 1% hydrocortisone) that can help relieve some of the redness and irritation on your baby’s scalp. Alternatively, your baby’s doctor may prescribe an anti-fungal cream to help.

Once you have your baby’s cradle cap under control or eliminated, a bi-weekly wash with an anti-dandruff shampoo can help prevent the condition from returning. Cradle cap usually clears up entirely by a baby’s first birthday, though some children may have it until 3 or 4.

Complications and side effects of cradle cap

The vast majority of cases of cradle cap are completely harmless and easily treated by home care. However, there are very few possible complications of cradle cap. One is a secondary infection caused by itching or scratching — if the irritated area causes a break in the skin, bacteria can enter and cause an infection.

Widespread seborrheic dermatitis, when it appears in conjunction with other symptoms, can be an indication of other conditions like Leiner’s disease or Langerhans cell histiocytosis X.

Always seek medical care for a baby with prolonged or very high fever, listlessness, dehydration, or other indications of becoming more seriously ill.

Medically Reviewed on 3/22/2021


American Family Physician: “Seborrheic Dermatitis: An Overview.”

Cedars Sinai: “Cradle Cap.”

Healthy Children: “Cradle Cap.”

Kids Health: “Cradle Cap (Seborrheic Dermatitis) in Infants”

MedlinePlus: “Cradle Cap.”

Seattle Children’s Hospital: “Cradle Cap.”

VeryWell Health: “Treating Cradle Cap Rashes in Infants.”


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