Cradle Cap Symptoms and Treatment

Learn what causes cradle cap (aka infantile seborrheic dermatitis), a condition that covers Baby's skin in splotches and flakes, and how to get rid of it.

What Is Cradle Cap?

Cradle cap is a common ailment among infants that is formally called infantile seborrheic dermatitis. It primarily appears on the baby's head or scalp area, but it can also be present on the face, back, upper, body, and anywhere that has oil glands, or sebaceous glands.

What Causes Cradle Cap?

Cradle cap causes include an accumulation of dead skin and oil on your baby's scalp or overactive oil glands (thanks to leftover hormones from Mom). Some experts believe that that yeast might be a factor in the occurrence of cradle cap, but no recommendations have been made to prevent the condition. Although it looks icky, cradle cap is not an infection and usually goes away on its own over several months as your baby's oil glands and hormones settle down.

Symptoms and Signs of Cradle Cap

Typically, cradle cap starts in the first few months of your baby's life, peaking in severity when the baby is around 6 weeks old. Cradle cap does not seem to cause any discomfort, pain, or itching and it is not harmful, but most people dislike the appearance of these scales on the baby's head. Your baby's noggin could have any of the following signs or symptoms:

  • Red splotches
  • White or yellow scales/flakes
  • Thick, crusty skin flakes/splotches

Cradle Cap on Arms and Legs

Cradle cap can also crop up on other areas of your baby's body, 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.

How to Get Rid of Cradle Cap

There isn't an established method for cradle cap prevention, and most infants experience some form of it. Shampooing your baby's head frequently is a good way to lessen cradle cap and keep it from recurring. Babies experience a variety of skin conditions in the first year of life, and cradle cap usually disappears completely by 6 months.

Cradle cap usually disappears on its own but if you want to speed up the process, wash your baby's head frequently with a hypoallergenic shampoo and rinse with warm water. Then use a soft brush to remove dry skin from the scalp—each shampooing and brushing will remove flakes from their head. There are also a few cradle cap remedies you can try.

How to Treat Cradle Cap with Baby Oil

Before Baby's bath, dab a dime-sized drop of baby oil (coconut oil and olive oil work too) on your palm and gently massage her head (being extra careful around the soft spots) and the surrounding areas. Be sure not to use too much oil, which could be difficult to get out. Allow it to sit for 10 minutes, loosening any dry patches of skin. Then while in the bath, use a soft toothbrush to gently whisk away the softened flakes. Rinse your baby's head well with soap and water.

If your baby doesn't have much hair, 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 anti-fungal cream, or suggest you wash your baby's head with a medicated shampoo that contains salicylic acid, like Mustela.

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