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Cradle cap

What is cradle cap?

Cradle cap, also called seborrhoeic dermatitis, causes yellow, greasy and scaly patches on a young baby's scalp.

Signs of cradle cap may sometimes be seen on a baby's face, ears, neck or the folds of skin behind the knees and in the armpits.

This condition isn’t contagious, and doesn’t usually cause the baby any discomfort. Cradle cap usually clears up on its own after some weeks or months.

Newborn baby with cradle cap (crusta lactea)

What causes cradle cap?

The precise cause of cradle cap is not known. However, malassezia yeast and oily sebum may play a role.

Cradle cap treatment

Cradle cap usually clears up on its own, but steps recommended by the NHS to help it clear up include:

  • Gentle washing of your baby's hair with a special baby shampoo - some types are sold specifically for cradle cap - always follow the instructions and keep shampoo out of the baby's eyes
  • Brushing the scalp with a very soft brush to help loosen scaly patches of skin
  • Softening scaly skin with baby oil before shampooing and brushing
  • Applying white petroleum jelly, vegetable or olive oil to the scalp and leaving it overnight and then washing it off with shampoo in the morning

Never pick at the cradle cap scales as this could cause an infection.

If these steps don’t help, seek medical advice. A doctor may suggest using an antifungal cream or mild steroid cream for a period of time.

How can cradle cap be prevented?

In most cases, frequent shampooing with a mild baby shampoo can prevent cradle cap from coming back once it has cleared up. A stronger medicated shampoo may be needed in some cases, but seek the advice of your doctor regarding the use of these. Most children outgrow cradle cap by the time they are one.

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WebMD Medical Reference

Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks on June 29, 2017

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