Cradle cap

By Medically reviewed by hellodoktor


What is cradle cap?

Cradle cap is an oily, yellow scaling or crusting on a baby’s scalp. It is common in babies and is easily treated. Cradle cap is not a part of any illness and does not imply that a baby is not being well cared for.

How common is cradle cap?

Cradle cap is extremely common. It usually appears in babies in the first two months and clears up without treatment within weeks to a few months. Please discuss with your doctor for further information.


What are the symptoms of cradle cap?

The common symptoms of cradle cap are:

  • Patchy scaling or thick crusts on the scalp
  • Oily or dry skin covered with flaky white or yellow scales
  • Skin flakes
  • Possibly mild redness

Similar scales may also be present on the ears, eyelids, nose and groin.

Cradle cap is common in newborns. It usually isn’t itchy.

Cradle cap is the common term for infantile seborrheic dermatitis. It’s sometimes confused with another skin condition, infantile eczema. A major difference between these conditions is that eczema usually causes significant itching.

There may be some symptoms not listed above. If you have any concerns about a symptom, please consult your doctor.

When should I see my doctor?

You should contact your doctor if you have any of the following:

  • You’ve tried treating it at home without success
  • The patches spread to your baby’s face or body


What causes cradle cap?

The 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 too much production of oil (sebum) in the oil glands and hair follicles.

Another factor may be a yeast (fungus) called malassezia 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.

Cradle cap isn’t contagious, and it’s not caused by poor hygiene.

Risk factors

What increases my risk for cradle cap?

There are many risk factors for cradle cap, such as:

  • Excessive sebum production by the oil (seborrheic) glands in the scalp
  • Bacteria and fungus (a type of yeast named malassezia) growth in the sebum
  • Certain hormones passed on to the baby by the mother before birth that stimulates the oil glands in the baby
  • Certain food intolerance (e.g. gluten, dairy products), common allergens or change in the atmosphere might lead to skin irritation and inflammation eventually causing cradle cap
  • A family history of skin allergies, such as eczema, may increase your baby’s risks of getting cradle cap. Having this infantile form of dermatitis might increase his chances of developing other types of seborrhoeic dermatitis (e.g. dandruff) when older

Diagnosis & treatment

The information provided is not a substitute for any medical advice. ALWAYS consult with your doctor for more information.

How is cradle cap diagnosed?

Cradle cap is a purely clinical diagnosis. The characteristic feature is yellow or white greasy scales on the skin of the infant’s scalp, without itching, weeping or pus formation – unless complicated by infection. While cradle cap occurs mostly on the scalp, sometimes it may be found on the face, neck, ears or in the skin folds. The skin may be reddened under the peeling scales. Sometimes hair fall occurs along with the removal of the scales, but it always grows back. The child is not otherwise sick, and grows normally.

If the cradle cap is infected, the skin around it becomes swollen and red (i.e. it shows typical signs of inflammation). Blisters or pustules may form, while weeping lesions may be found near the scaly ones.

How is cradle cap treated?

Cradle cap usually doesn’t require medical treatment. It clears up on its own within a few 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 scale.

If frequent shampooing doesn’t help, consult your baby’s doctor. He or she may recommend an adult dandruff shampoo, such as one containing 2 percent antifungal ketoconazole medication. Be sure the shampoo doesn’t get in your baby’s eyes, as it 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 changes & home remedies

What are some lifestyle changes or home remedies that can help me manage cradle cap?

The following lifestyles and home remedies might help you cope with cradle cap:

  • Gently rub your baby’s scalp with your fingers or a washcloth to loosen the scales. Don’t scratch.
  • Wash your baby’s hair once a day with mild baby shampoo. Loosen the scales with a small, soft-bristled brush before rinsing off the shampoo.
  • If the scales don’t loosen easily, rub petroleum jelly or a few drops of mineral oil onto your baby’s scalp. Let it soak into the scales for a few minutes, or hours if needed. Then brush and shampoo your baby’s hair as usual. If you leave the oil in your baby’s hair, the cradle cap may get worse.
  • Once the scales are gone, wash your baby’s hair every few days with a mild shampoo to prevent scale buildup.

If you have any questions, please consult with your doctor to better understand the best solution for you.

Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

Review Date: July 20, 2017 | Last Modified: September 13, 2019