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Cradle cap is a common skin condition that affects young babies. It is extremely uncommon in babies aged over three months. It appears as thick, waxy, yellow crusts on the baby's scalp.
Cradle cap is neither painful nor itchy and usually clears by itself after a few months. It is not contagious and it is not caused by poor hygiene. Babies with cradle cap are otherwise well, but many parents prefer to remove the crusts because they do not like how it looks.
Cradle cap may appear in your baby's eyebrows. Scaly patches on other parts of the face or body are not cradle cap and should be checked by your GP or paediatrician. If the cradle cap starts to ooze or smell, the area may be infected and you should have your baby assessed.
If your baby has cradle cap, they may have:
Cradle cap is a form of dermatitis that causes inflammation of the oil glands in the skin, which are called the sebaceous (seb-ay-shus) glands. The type of dermatitis is called seborrhoeic (seb-uh-ray-ic) dermatitis. Sebaceous glands help ‘waterproof’ the skin by making a slightly
greasy substance called sebum. Babies are born with active sebaceous glands because they have been living in their mother's womb. Once a baby is about three months old, the sebaceous glands become inactive until puberty.
Cradle cap usually gets better on its own without treatment. However, the following steps may help it improve faster:
The cradle cap may come back, even when treated properly, because the glands can keep making too much sebum for a few months. If this happens, repeat the treatment.
Sometimes the skin under the crusts of cradle cap can become infected. The skin can become inflamed and may weep. This is caused by the staphylococcus aureus bacteria – the same germ that causes impetigo (school sores). If this infection spreads or your baby becomes unwell, take your baby to be checked by
a doctor. Your baby may need antibiotics to clear the infection. Unlike cradle cap, impetigo is contagious.
If the cradle cap continues after your baby is three months old or it is very itchy for your baby, it may be eczema of the scalp and will need different treatment. Some shampoos and moisturising creams can make it worse. If your baby's cradle cap isn't getting better or seems to be spreading
to other areas of the body – including the face – take your baby to see your GP, paediatrician or Maternal and Child Health Nurse.
Will my baby be more likely to have dandruff in the
Most babies will have cradle cap, but only a smaller number
go on to have dandruff in the future. Other types of seborrhoeic dermatitis can
include persistent dandruff. Adolescence can be a peak time for seborrhoeic
dermatitis because of increased production of hormones.
I’ve heard that a good treatment for cradle cap is rubbing
olive oil onto my baby’s scalp? Do you recommend this?
Olive oil can help to
lift the crusts from the scalp, which can then be removed using a soft
toothbrush or gentle comb. This is safe to do.
Developed by The Royal Children's Hospital General Medicine and Dermatology departments. We acknowledge the input of RCH consumers and carers.
Reviewed March 2018.
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