crsheader Index Spanish version Illustration Thumbnail image of: Skin, Cross Section: Illustration Cradle Cap

What is cradle cap?

Cradle cap is a common skin condition in babies. Cradle cap appears as red patches with oily, yellow scales or crusts on the scalp. It often begins in the first weeks of life. With treatment it will clear up in a few weeks. Without treatment it will go away on its own after several months.

What is the cause?

Cradle cap is probably caused by hormones from the mother that crossed the placenta before birth. The hormones cause the oil glands in the skin to become overactive and release more oil than normal. This causes the dead skin cells that normally fall off to “stick” to the skin and form yellow crusts and scales.

How can I take care of my child?

  • Antidandruff shampoo

    Buy an antidandruff shampoo (nonprescription) at the drugstore. Wash your baby’s hair with it twice a week. While the hair is lathered, massage your baby’s scalp with a soft brush or rough washcloth. Don’t worry about hurting the soft spot. Once the cradle cap has cleared up, use a regular baby shampoo twice a week.

  • Softening thick crusts

    If your child’s scalp is very crusty, put some baby oil or olive oil on the scalp 1 hour before washing to soften the crust. Wash all the oil off, however, or it may worsen the cradle cap.

  • Resistant cases of cradle cap

    If the area is very red and irritated, apply 1% hydrocortisone cream (nonprescription) once a day. Rub in a small amount. After 1 hour, wash the area with soap and water. Do this for no more than 7 days.

When should I call my child’s healthcare provider?

Call during office hours if:

  • The cradle cap lasts more than 2 weeks with treatment.
  • The rash spreads beyond the scalp.
  • You have other concerns or questions.

Written by Barton D. Schmitt, MD, author of “My Child Is Sick”, American Academy of Pediatrics Books. Published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2011-06-07
Last reviewed: 2011-06-06 This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional. Pediatric Advisor 2011.4 Index
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