Cradle cap, officially known as seborrheic dermatitis or seborrhea, is the name for the greasy, yellowish scales found on the head and eyebrows of infants. It is estimated that between 2 and 5 percent of babies will develop cradle cap.
Cradle cap scale typically appears to be stuck to the scalp, but it can be lifted by very gentle scraping with a comb or clean fingernail. It often begins in the first month after birth, increases until about the third month, and then gradually lessens over the next year.
Cradle cap is often asymptomatic, meaning that it is present but does not cause any itching, irritation, or redness. It may be limited to a small patch on the head or cover it extensively. Sometimes seborrhea can cause red bumps on the face, behind the ears, and along the crease of the neck, armpits, and groin. There may also be “cheesy” debris in the folds of the skin.
Depending on the extent of the seborrhea, your pediatrician may recommend one of the following treatments.
- Regular shampooing and using a infant brush or comb to brush away the scale can be enough in mild cases.
- Applying a bit of oil, such as baby oil, mineral oil, olive oil, or coconut oil (after spot-checking for an allergy) 30 minutes before shampooing can help soften the scale to allow for easier removal.
- Using a mild antiseborrheic (dandruff) shampoo — being careful to avoid the eye area — a few times a week can help reduce scale and redness from cradle cap.
For seborrhea of the face, ears, and body, your doctor may recommend a low potency corticosteroid medication to apply to the skin once or twice a day for a short time. Your doctor will evaluate the skin, looking for signs of other common infections in infants, such as yeast or a bacterial skin infection, since they can sometimes appear similar to seborrhea. In extreme cases, a pediatric dermatologist is warranted to help treat the condition.
Reviewed by Dr. Sara Connolly, April 2019
- Roughly 2-5 percent of babies will develop cradle cap as newborns.
- Usually, this will start to lessen after three months of age.
- In mild cases, regular shampooing and an infant comb are enough to brush it away.