Cradle cap, the common term for infantile seborrheic dermatitis, causes scaly patches on a baby's scalp. Though cradle cap isn't serious, it can cause thick crusting and white or yellow scales.
Cradle cap usually resolves on its own within a few months. Self-care measures, such as washing your baby's scalp daily with a mild shampoo, can help loosen and remove the cradle cap scales. If cradle cap persists or seems severe, your doctor may suggest a medicated shampoo, lotion or other treatment.
Cradle cap on light skin
Cradle cap is characterized by scaly patches on a baby's scalp. You may notice thick, yellow patches of skin. The patches may be crusty or greasy. ...
Cradle cap on dark skin
Cradle cap appears as patchy scaling or thick crusts on the scalp and greasy skin covered with flaky white or yellow scales. Cradle cap usually doesn't bother the infant. ...
Common signs of cradle cap include:
Similar scales may also be present on the ears, eyelids, nose and groin.
Cradle cap is most common in newborns. It isn't contagious and probably won't bother your baby. Cradle cap generally isn't itchy for infants.
Cradle cap is sometimes confused with another skin condition, infantile eczema. One major difference between these conditions, however, is that eczema usually causes significant itching.
When to see a doctor
Though the exact 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 an abnormal production of oil (sebum) in the oil glands and hair follicles.
Another factor may be a yeast (fungus) called malassezia (mal-uh-SEE-zhuh) 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.
Preparing for your appointment
If your baby's cradle cap doesn't improve with self-care measures or starts to spread, make an appointment with your baby's pediatrician. Here's some information to help you prepare for your visit.
What you can do
Treatments and drugs
Cradle cap usually doesn't require medical treatment. It clears up on its own within a few weeks to months. In the meantime, wash your baby's hair once a day with mild baby shampoo and brush the scalp lightly with a soft brush to loosen the scales.
If frequent shampooing doesn't help, consult your baby's doctor. He or she may recommend a stronger shampoo — such as an adult dandruff shampoo containing tar, 2 percent of the antifungal medication ketoconazole or 1 percent selenium sulfide — to help dissolve the scales. Be sure these shampoos don't get in your baby's eyes, as they may cause irritation. Hydrocortisone cream is sometimes helpful to reduce redness and inflammation.
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.
Lifestyle and home remedies
The following over-the-counter treatments and self-care tips can help you control and manage cradle cap.
Shampooing your baby's hair every few days can help prevent cradle cap. Stick with a mild baby shampoo unless your baby's doctor recommends something stronger.
Last Updated: 2012-11-13
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