Cradle Cap: What Every Parent Should Know

Learn the signs and symptoms of cradle cap. You will also find out the causes of cradle cap and how to treat it. Find out if these scales on the head are a concern or not.

Cradle cap on baby's scalp

There is nothing sweeter than a newborn. New parents and seasoned parents alike can be very concerned whenever something seems to be off or not normal with their baby.

Cradle cap has the appearance of something being wrong. The large, yellow scales can seem concerning. Rest assured this is not a problem nor is it painful!

Cradle cap (seborrheic dermatitis) is most common in newborns, but can appear any time between 2 weeks and 12 months old.

Cradle cap is not the same thing as eczema. Do not treat them as the same. Eczema will bother your baby, while cradle cap will not.

My second child, Kaitlyn, had cradle cap as a baby. I wasn’t sure what I should do or not do and if it was bothering my baby.

Signs of Cradle Cap

If you have never had a baby with cradle cap before, you might not know exactly what to look for. Here are the symptoms of cradle cap.

Cradle cap is scaly patches on a baby’s scalp. These can be crusty or oily. These scales are not easy to just remove.

You might just have some skin flakes on the head instead of flaky white or yellow scales.

You might also see some inflammation.

Cradle cap can also appear on other parts of the body. You might see it in the forehead, face, behind the ears, eyelids, armpits, in the diaper area or groin, and in other skin folds and creases.

Causes of Cradle Cap

There is not a definitive known cause of cradle cap.

Some people speculate that it is caused by hormones passed from mom to baby that cause an overproduction of oil (sebum) in the oil glands. This oil then crusts and forms scales.

Another theory is that it is a fungus or yeast that grows in the sebum (called malassezia).

Cradle cap is not something that is contagious and it is not caused by poor hygiene and washing. It also is not an allergic reaction of any kind.

Treatments for Cradle Cap

Are you wondering how you get rid of cradle cap? While this condition is not life-threatening in any way, it also isn’t aesthetically pleasing.

Cradle cap does usually clear up on its own in a few weeks or a few months.

Here are some things you can do at home:

  • Brush baby’s scalp with a soft brush or soft toothbrush. You might also try a small fine-toothed comb.
  • Wash the scalp daily with a mild shampoo (you will want to use a baby shampoo)
  • Apply mineral oil, petroleum jelly, or baby oil to the scalp. Some people like to use olive oil. Let it soak in for as few as a few minutes or even up to a few hours. Then brush, then shampoo
  • Check with your doctor about a medicated shampoo or lotion to use
  • Antifungal treatment such as an antifungal cream (check with your baby’s doctor before using)
  • Your pediatrician might recommend using a hydrocortisone cream.

Here are some things to NOT do:

  • Do not scratch the scales and try to get them off. You can end up causing small wounds on your infant from over-scratching. This can lead to bleeding.
Combing baby's head with a fine-toothed comb

Frequently Asked Questions

Here are some frequently asked questions parents have about cradle cap.

Is cradle cap painful for the baby?

No this is not painful and does not cause discomfort.

Is cradle cap itchy?

Cradle cap is also not itchy. It might look really uncomfortable, but it seems to be more of an aesthetic problem than any other problem. Itching is not a concern.

Is cradle cap in the diaper area a problem?

Sometimes the cradle cap in this area of the body can be come infected. Watch rashes in this area of the bod closely and talk to your doctor if there are signs of infection or discomfort.

How common is cradle cap?

It is estimated that about 70% of 3 month olds have cradle cap. You can see it is a common skin condition.

When will it go away?

It typically goes away on its own by 12 months of age.

Will it ever come back?

Some kids who had cradle cap as a baby get dandruff once they hit puberty. If this happens, dandruff shampoos can help.


While cradle cap is not something to be concerned about from a medical standpoint, you might want to try some things to help the affected areas to clear up. Your efforts will help improve the cradle cap, but it will likely not go away completely until your baby is a bit older.

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