Cradle Cap: Causes, Symptoms and Treatment

cradle cap

Does your newborn baby have crusty or scaly patches on the head? Well, this could be due to the cradle cap.

These oily patches are not harmful to your baby.

In fact, it is common in babies and you can call it the infant form of dandruff just that it is rough and different in appearance.

The name comes from the place of the rough patches i.e. the head where you wear a cap.

This article discusses how you can treat it and why you don’t need to worry about it.

Keep reading to know more.

cradle cap causes

Cradle Cap Causes

There is no confirmed cause of a cradle cap.

However, one possibility could be the excess sebum production in the oil glands as well as the hair follicles.

But how does an infant’s skin produce excess oil?

That could be attributed to the hormones passing from the mother to the child.

Hormones can increase oil production.

Other than that, yeast growth can be behind it too.

The fungus Malassezia grows within the sebum and bacteria.

Hence, it can contribute to the condition and can resolve using antifungal treatments.

While the causes are not as clear, this condition isn’t harmful.

In fact, it may go away on its own.

Don’t worry, it does not signal poor hygiene and you were probably taking good care of your child.

Neither is it contagious.

However, there is a point from where onwards you should consult your doctor.

This happens when you have tried your all to treat it at home but it does not go away on its own.

Moreover, the patches spread from the head to the face and the rest of the body.

In most cases, the patches will go away on their own without requiring treatment.

Or if your child does then they will give an antifungal treatment or medicated shampoo. More on that below!

But first, you need to identify it by looking for possible symptoms.

sclaes on head


The signs and symptoms of this condition start to appear pretty early.

Babies usually have it between 2 to 6 weeks.

The common symptoms are:

Oily Scalp

The scalp appears oily or greasy.

Plus the scalp has a patchy scaling that is usually with thick crusts.

These patches are either white or yellow in color.

These flaky white and yellow scales fall off over time.

Hair Loss

Sometimes your child may lose hair while going through the condition.

However, there is nothing to worry about as it is extremely rare.

Plus, the hair grows back when the condition resolves on its own.


Your child can suffer from mild redness and skin flakes.

cradle cap in babies

Scalp Color Changes

At times there are no patches.

Hence, the skin does not have any flakes nor is it scaly.

However, the skin on the scalp looks a different color.

Present on Other Body Parts 

The skin on the scalp is not the only place where there can be flakes or scales.

In fact, the signs may also appear on the behind your ear, in the armpits, the groin, and your face which includes the eyelids and nose.

The medical term for a cradle cap is infantile seborrheic dermatitis.

Though, remember that it is not the same as atopic dermatitis.

Even if both skin conditions are rather common in babies, one itch and the other does not.

Infantile seborrheic dermatitis does not itch at all.

Therefore, your child will not really feel uncomfortable and scratch their head.

So itching is not a symptom.

If your child does have it, then that may signal atopic dermatitis.

Moreover, it resolves on its own but if it does not go to your doctor for a diagnosis.

treatment on head

Diagnosis and Cradle Cap Treatment

Your child does not need to go through any tests for the diagnosis.

They will know immediately after examining your child’s scalp and their skin condition.

Your doctor will prescribe treatment accordingly which involves:

  • Wash their head
  • Brushing it
  • Then lubricating it
  • Applying the treatment

The first step is to keep your child’s head clean.

Hence, you should wash it daily so that it gets rid of the excess oils.

You may or may not need a medicated cradle cap shampoo.

Using a baby shampoo works fine too.

If it does not, then you can switch to a medicated one.

However, you will have to wash more often than you do right now.

Probably without skipping any days and being regular.

Beware that the shampoos adults use are not always fit for infants too.

Hence, do not wash your child’s head with an anti-dandruff shampoo.

Before your shampoo, apply a small amount of mineral oil to your child’s head.

Do so a few hours before washing their head and especially on days where the scaling and flakes are heavier.

Next comes brushing their hair.

Use a soft brush to comb their hair gently.

This way the flakes fall off and become loose over time.

Remember that you have to be gentle and not scratch the scales harshly.

Furthermore, you can use another layer of lubrication so that the scales become loose and fall off soon.

After you shampoo and brush your baby’s hair, it is time to apply some petroleum jelly, olive oil or baby oil onto their scales.

If all of this does not work, then you may ask your doctor for some ointments or cradle cap cream to eliminate the scales.

If there is inflammation on the scalp they may prescribe hydrocortisone.

Though, you may not necessarily need it.

Even if it is low potency, you shouldn’t use it when it is not needed and prescribed specifically.

They can even be toxic if absorbed via your child’s skin.

Your doctor can also give a medicated shampoo with 2 percent antifungal ketoconazole.

When you are applying it be especially careful that it does not get into their eyes which will cause them to cry out of irritation.

Moreover, do not use dandruff shampoo for adults.

They contain salicylic acid and their skin can quickly absorb it.

Besides all this, you can also implement some lifestyle changes that can help your baby get through this condition.

home remedies treating cradle cap

Home Remedies to Implement

When your child develops a cradle cap, use home care tips so that the patches come loose soon.

Rub your child’s scalp using a washcloth and your fingers.

However, do not scratch them as that could injure your child.

Then do not forget to shampoo their head and comb with a fine-toothed brush.

Brushing with a soft comb before washing your hair and after shampooing.

Then rinse off the shampoo but be careful while protecting their eyes.

However, if the patches do not go on their own then you can apply a few drops of olive oil and baby oil to lubricate them.

It helps soften the patches.

Petroleum jelly works the same way too if you give enough time to all of these so that the scales soak them.

Once, they do soak it for several minutes, then shampoo and brush their hair.

However, remember, do not keep the oil in their head for too long as it can make their condition worse.

Once, it goes away by either using remedies or antifungal creams and medication shampoos, take care of their head.

Wash their hair frequently, without bugger gaps in between.

Shampooing hair every 2 to 3 days is usually enough.

This helps to prevent the scales from building up again.

However, when your child does have the scales and flakes, your doctor may advise you to shampoo more often.

Thus by using these home remedies and medical treatments you can get rid of the scales and flakes in no time.

preventing the condition on baby's head

How to Prevent Cradle Cap?

You can prevent it from recurring the same way you treat it.

  • Wash your baby’s head daily
  • Use an emollient such as petroleum jelly or olive oil to loosen the flakes
  • Rinse their scalp thoroughly to clean any treatment used
  • Massage the scalp using your fingers but do not scratch the scales
  • Brush their hair with a rubber cradle cap brush, an ordinary soft brush, or a fine-toothed comb
  • Using a medicated shampoo to get rid of the scales when they exist but using mild baby shampoo will prevent them from returning
  • Using an ointment for 1 to 2 weeks helps to treat the scales as well as prevent them from returning
  • Check if your baby is stressed
  • Keep a check on their nutritional intake and deficiencies
  • Make sure your child gets enough sleep

You may be surprised to find out but stress can trigger cradle cap.

Your child may show other symptoms of stress such as yawning, frowning and leg flailing.

As a parent, you should pay attention to their needs so that they feel safe and comforted.

Sleep deprivation can also be one of the triggers.

Around 14 to 17 hours of sleep is a newborn baby’s essential requirement.

So ensure that they get a good sleep throughout the day.

Other than that, they should be well-fed and not lacking in any nutrients so they don’t get any health problems.


A cradle cap is not a condition you should immensely worry about.

The flakes will fall on their own and if they don’t then a mild treatment can help.

Just remember to not use the same things on an infant that an adult would.








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