Cradle cap, also called infantile seborrheic dermatitis, occurs in infants, usually within a few months of birth and normally disappears a few months later. It causes scaly, white or yellow patches which begin on the scalp and can also appear behind the ears, in the armpits or on the face. It can look oily or be dry and flaky. Cradle cap usually doesn’t cause any discomfort, itch or pain and looks much worse than it is.
Scientists don’t know the exact cause but there are several theories:
- Hormones passed from the mother to infant before birth may cause a high level of oil in the oil glands and hair follicles preventing old skin from drying and falling off.
- It may be caused by a fungal infection. This may occur if the mother was given antibiotics before birth or the baby took antibiotics within the first week after birth.
- A family history of eczema or allergies
Despite not knowing the exact cause, experts do agree that it is not caused by poor hygiene.
What Parents Can Do
Treatment for cradle cap usually isn’t necessary; it normally clears up on its own within a few weeks or months. However, there are some things you can do to help loosen the scales:
- Wash your child’s hair once a day with a gentle baby shampoo making sure to fully rinse out all shampoo
- Brush the scalp with a soft brush
- Lightly massage the scalp with your fingers
- Gently rub olive oil, mineral oil or petroleum jelly into your baby’s scalp before washing the hair. The Mayo Clinic suggests rinsing out the oil after a few minutes, the Children’s Hospital of Minnesota suggests 10 minutes and the National Institutes of Health state it can stay on for an hour before washing it out.
- Once the cradle cap has improved, continue to shampoo every few days and comb or brush the scalp daily
If you notice redness, bleeding or feel the cradle cap isn’t getting better, consult your doctor. He or she may recommend a stronger shampoo (such as those developed specifically for cradle cap or adult dandruff shampoo), antibiotics or anti-fungal medication, shampoo or soap and hydrocortisone cream to help reduce itching. Because of your baby’s sensitive skin, you shouldn’t try these methods without first talking to your pediatrician.
“Cradle Cap,” Revised 2012, Dec. Staff Writer, Children’s Hospital and Clinics of Minnesota
“Cradle Cap,” Updated 2012, June 4, Staff Writer, HealthyChildren.org, American Academy of Pediatrics
“Cradle Cap,” 2012, Nov. 13, Staff Writer, Mayo Clinic
“Seborrheic Dermatitis,” Updated 2011, may 13, Updated by Kevin Berman, M.D. , Medline Plus
Published On: March 25, 2013