Cradle cap

My two-week-old son has cradle cap. How can I help to get rid of this? It is very unsightly.

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Robert Steele

Robert W. Steele, MD, is a board certified pediatrician at St. John's Regional Health Center in Springfield, MO. He graduated from medical... Read more

Cradle cap is a skin condition which commonly occurs on the scalp of infants. The medical term is seborrheic dermatitis, which is just a fancy name for irritation around the oil-producing sebaceous glands of the skin. It usually shows up in the first month, and generally goes away within a few months.

It looks like scaly, yellow flakes. It may give the appearance that your child's head is dirty or has a bad case of dandruff.

In more severe cases, the areas involved may include the ears, forehead and eyelids.

Parents should keep in mind that this condition is not caused by poor care or poor hygiene. In fact, the cause of this condition is not completely understood.

The sebaceous glands of the skin produce oils, and the glands are stimulated by hormones. The infant is exposed to high levels of hormones in the womb, and these hormones linger for some time after he is born. It is thought that this exposure to these hormones makes it more likely to develop cradle cap in those prone to do so.

Cradle cap will eventually go away on its own, however, there are a few things you can do to help with the baby's appearance and keep the area of involvement in check. The basic strategy is to gently loosen the scales so that they may be easily removed:

  1. If the scales are dry, rub mineral oil into the scalp prior to washing. This will help loosen the scales
  2. Wash your child's head with a baby shampoo daily.
  3. Massage the scalp with a toothbrush to loosen the scales.
  4. Brush your child's hair gently to help get rid of the scales.

For the most part, the above suggestions -- plus the tincture of time -- will allow for cradle cap to subside. Some physicians and parents have suggested rubbing mineral oil into the scalp even after shampooing the hair. And some suggest using a dandruff shampoo when the cradle cap does not seem to be getting better.

If your baby's scalp seems to be significantly irritated, your physician may prescribe hydrocortisone ointment. Be sure to contact your physician if you notice any:

  • Redness
  • Irritation
  • If the cradle cap extends to cover the skin of the face, neck or trunk
  • If the condition seems to worsen, despite your best efforts
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