Q: My baby's scalp looks crusty. Is this cradle cap?

A: The thick, scaly skin on your baby's head (and even on his eyebrows) is most likely cradle cap, a condition that tends to show up in the first three months of life. Cradle cap affects half of all babies; it's usually caused by either an accumulation of dead skin and oil on your baby's scalp or overactive oil glands (thanks to leftover hormones from Mom). Although it looks icky, cradle cap is not an infection, shouldn't cause your baby any discomfort, and usually goes away on its own over several months as your baby's oil glands and hormones settle down.

To de-flake your baby, massage her scalp with olive oil a few times a week. Dab a dime-sized drop on your palm and gently massage your baby's head (being extra careful around the soft spots) before bathtime. Wait 10 minutes and then while in the bath, use a soft toothbrush to gently whisk away the softened flakes. Then wash your baby's head well with soap and water. This super-moisturizing treatment softens rough patches and loosens scaly skin so it can be rubbed away painlessly. If your baby doesn't have much hair, then dab on a little Vaseline or Aquaphor to lock in moisture. You may have to do this several times a week to keep the cradle cap under control. For more stubborn cases, your pediatrician may prescribe a topical steroid cream or suggest you wash your baby's head with a dandruff shampoo a few times a week.

Cradle cap can also crop up on other areas of your baby's body (it's called seborrheic dermatitis), most likely in skin folds on the arms and legs. This doesn't mean the rash is spreading; it's just occurring in different areas. If this starts to happen, give your pediatrician a call, since a prescription cream may be needed to get your baby's skin clear again.

Copyright 2009 Meredith Corporation.

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