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Cradle Cap

What is cradle cap?

Cradle cap is a common skin condition in babies. Cradle cap appears as red patches with oily, yellow scales or crusts on the scalp. It’s harmless and will eventually go away on its own.

What is the cause?

Cradle cap is probably caused by hormones from the mother that crossed the placenta before birth. The hormones cause the oil glands in the skin to become overactive and release more oil than normal. This causes the dead skin cells that normally fall off to "stick" to the skin and form yellow crusts and scales.

How can I take care of my child?

  • Antidandruff shampoo

    Buy an antidandruff shampoo (nonprescription) at the drugstore. Wash your baby's hair with it twice a week. While the hair is lathered, massage your baby's scalp with a soft brush or rough washcloth. Don't worry about hurting the soft spot. Once the cradle cap has cleared up, use a regular baby shampoo twice a week.

  • Softening thick crusts

    If your child's scalp is very crusty, put some baby oil on the scalp 15 minutes before washing to soften the crust. Wash all the oil off, however, or it may worsen the cradle cap. Cradle cap lotions for loosening up the scales are also available without a prescription. Apply the lotion 15 minutes before shampooing.

  • Resistant cases of cradle cap

    If the area is very red and irritated, apply 1% hydrocortisone cream (nonprescription) once a day. Rub in a small amount. After 1 hour, wash the area with soap and water. Do this for no more than 7 days.

  • Expected Course

    Cradle cap will eventually go away on its own between 6 and 12 months of age. Usually it doesn’t cause any symptoms (such as pain or itching). Therefore treatment is optional and mainly done for cosmetic reasons.

When should I call my child's healthcare provider?

Call during office hours if:

  • The cradle cap lasts more than 12 months.
  • The rash spreads beyond the scalp.
  • You have other concerns or questions.
Written by Barton D. Schmitt, MD, author of “My Child Is Sick,” American Academy of Pediatrics Books.
Pediatric Advisor 2019.4 published by Change Healthcare.
Last modified: 2013-06-03
Last reviewed: 2018-07-13
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
Copyright ©1986-2018 Barton D. Schmitt, MD FAAP. All rights reserved.
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