What Is Cradle Cap or Seborrheic Dermatitis? | Cosmetology

Cradle cap or seborrheic dermatitis

Overview of cradle cap

Cradle cap, sometimes also called crib cap, is the baby version of seborrheic dermatitis. Seborrheic dermatitis causes dandruff in adults. In babies, it causes extremely thick and flaky skin on a baby’s scalp.

Cradle cap is common, mostly harmless, and should go away eventually. It’s most common in babies up to 3 months old, but it can last up to a year or longer. Most cases of cradle cap go away by a child’s first birthday, and cases continue to drastically decrease as a child approaches 4 years of age.

Cradle cap is usually located on the head and may concentrate behind the ears. Sometimes, it also affects the skin under the eyebrows or on the nose, armpits, or groin. The flakes may be either dry or greasy, and they are usually white or yellow.

Cradle cap is harmless and it’s not medically necessary to get rid of it. But if you want to try removing it, there are a few safe methods you can use at home. Most remedies are not scientifically proven to work and results will likely be temporary. Someday your child will simply grow out of developing cradle cap.

Always be gentle with baby skin. If you irritate the scalp too much you could cause tiny cuts, which might get infected.

Symptoms of cradle cap

Common signs of cradle cap include:

  • Patchy scaling or thick crusts on the scalp.
  • Oily or dry skin covered with flaky white or yellow scales.
  • Skin flakes.
  • Possibly mild redness.

Similar scales may also be present on the ears, eyelids, nose and groin. Cradle cap is common in newborns. It usually isn’t itchy.

Cradle cap is the common term for infantile seborrheic dermatitis. It’s sometimes confused with another skin condition, atopic dermatitis. A major difference between these conditions is that atopic dermatitis usually causes significant itching.

Causes of cradle cap

The cause of cradle cap isn’t known. One contributing factor may be hormones that pass from the mother to the baby before birth. These hormones can cause too much production of oil (sebum) in the oil glands and hair follicles.

Another factor may be a yeast (fungus) called Malassezia that grows in the sebum along with bacteria. Antifungal treatments, such as ketoconazole, are often effective, supporting the idea that yeast is a contributing factor.

Cradle cap isn’t contagious, and it’s not caused by poor hygiene.


Your doctor will know right away if your child has this very common condition. They will only have to see the skin of your baby’s scalp or other parts of the body. Your baby will not need any tests from the doctor to diagnose the cradle cap.


Although the cradle cap is very rare, it should be monitored if it is worse.

If any of the following happens, it is advisable to seek medical help:

  • Areas begin to turn red
  • Patches begin to look irritated
  • The affected area spreads to the face or begins to appear on the body
  • Diaper rash can occur
  • The baby develops a fungal ear infection
  • Signs of thrush appear.

If a fungal infection is present, it can develop and allow bacteria to grow. In a more severe case of cradle cap, bacteria can develop in the areas of cracks or bleeding. It is also important to inform your doctor about other problems, such as diarrhoea, as these may be associated with cradle cap.


Cradle cap usually doesn’t require medical treatment, as it usually goes away on its own. In the meantime, wash your baby’s hair once a day with mild baby shampoo. If the scaling is heavy, apply mineral oil to the scalp for a couple of hours before shampooing. Then wash the hair as usual and brush the scalp lightly with a soft brush to loosen the scale.

If frequent shampooing doesn’t help, talk with your baby’s doctor about products that might help, such as low-potency hydrocortisone cream or shampoo with 2 per cent antifungal ketoconazole medication. Be sure the shampoo doesn’t get in your baby’s eyes, as it may irritate.

Don’t use over-the-counter cortisone or antifungal creams without talking to your baby’s doctor, because some of these products can be toxic when absorbed through a baby’s skin. Dandruff shampoos that contain salicylic acid aren’t recommended for use in babies either, because they can be absorbed through the skin.


This cannot be prevented. However, it is easily treatable and does not need to affect the infant’s quality of life. Not all babies will be affected by cradle cap. Some methods include reducing the chance of skin irritation:

  • Be sure to rinse all traces of shampoo, soap, or cleanser off the body during the shower to reduce the chance of skin irritation.
  • Dress the child inappropriate clothes that allow air to circulate, which reduces the chances of skin irritation
  • Choose clothes made of natural fibers rather than synthetic fibers, as they improve air circulation and regulate moisture.
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