Cradle Cap: What Is It and How to Treat It

Article By
Published On
19 Dec, 2023
Read Time
4 minutes

Cradle cap is a type of dermatitis that affects infants. It usually appears as flaky, scaly patches on the baby's scalp, and although it's really common, it can be quite alarming to parents who are seeing it for the first time.

In this post, we'll be exploring what causes cradle cap, how to spot it, and most importantly, how to treat it. So, if you're a new parent who's worried about your baby's skin health, keep reading!

How to spot cradle cap?

If you're wondering if your baby has cradle cap, look out for white, yellow, or red patches of greasy, scaly, skin, or small, dry flakes like dandruff.

Where can cradle cap develop?

Although it usually appears on the scalp, cradle cap can also appear on a baby's:

  • face (nose, eyebrows, eyelids)
  • ears
  • neck
  • armpits
  • knees
  • nappy area

If your baby gets cradle cap in their nappy area, it can help to keep the area as clean and dry as possible.

How to get rid of cradle cap on babies?

Cradle cap is harmless and usually goes away on its own, but there are things you can do to make it better at home. You can try the following steps to help treat it, but remember to be patient, cradle cap can sometimes take a few weeks or months to clear up. Don’t worry if some of your baby's hair comes away with the crusts, it will soon grow back.

  • Wash their hair: Use a mild baby shampoo and warm water to clean your baby's hair every few days during bathtime.

  • Massage: You can try gently massaging your baby's scalp to loosen and remove any dry crusts.

  • Moisturise: Gently moisturise your baby's scalp with emollient or scalp cream after bathing

  • Brush their hair: Use a soft baby hairbrush to care for your little one's hair and scalp.

Cradle cap: What not to do 

There are a few things that should be avoided when it comes to baby cradle cap, these include:

  • Pick or scratch it. This can increase the chance of an infection developing.
  • Applying olive or peanut oil. These may not be suitable for use on the skin and can pose an allergy risk.
  • Using soap or adult shampoos.

How does it take for cradle cap to clear?

Cradle cap usually lasts for a few weeks to a few months, but it can vary from baby to baby. If you are concerned about your baby's cradle cap or if it seems to be getting worse, it's always best to seek advice from a healthcare professional.

When to see a doctor?

It's important to note that while cradle cap is rarely cause for concern, as with any health or medical conditions, there does come a time when medical assistance might be needed.

You should seek medical assistance from your doctor for your baby's cradle cap if:

  • their symptoms don't clear up on their own after a few weeks
  • your baby has cradle cap all over their body
  • any areas look swollen, bleed or leak fluid
  • the rash feels warm, smells or is itchy

If you notice any of these signs, it is best to consult with a healthcare professional as soon as possible. They will be able to determine the best course of action for your baby's specific situation. If the cradle cap is inflamed or infected, they may prescribe a specialist steroid cream to help treat it.

Tips for preventing cradle cap

The best ways to prevent cradle cap are regularly washing your baby's hair with a specially designed baby shampoo, gently brushing their scalp, and making sure that all traces of shampoo, soap or cleansers are rinsed off your baby after bathtime.

Why do babies develop cradle cap?

Cradle cap is known medically as seborrhoeic dermatitis. The exact cause of it is not known, but it’s thought that many factors including the presence of Malassezia yeasts and immune response are associated with its development.

No. While you can take measures to gradually treat cradle cap at home, you should never pick or scratch it. When it comes to cradle cap, it's best to be patient and remember that although it looks uncomfortable, it’s not likely to harm your baby.

No, the good news is that cradle cap isn't usually painful for babies, and it can’t be caught or passed on from one baby to another.