Cradle cap is the oily, scaly crust that babies sometimes get on their scalps, in their body folds and on their torsos. Although cradle cap looks uncomfortable, it doesn’t usually bother your baby. It begins soon after birth and can last for up to 12 months.

Causes of cradle cap

Cradle cap happens if your baby’s skin makes too much oil (sebum). This extra oil interferes with the natural shedding of skin on his scalp and creates a build-up of dead skin over the scalp. Your baby’s skin probably makes the extra oil because mum’s hormones are still circulating in his bloodstream after birth.

Cradle cap might also happen if your baby’s immune system overreacts to the presence of normal yeast on her scalp. This overreaction causes inflammation.

Cradle cap isn’t contagious, dangerous or serious.

Symptoms of cradle cap

Cradle cap usually looks like a pale yellow scale or crust at the back or on the top of your baby’s head. Sometimes the scale can also spread to your baby’s eyebrows and behind his ears. Some babies even get it on their torsos.

The scale or crust might have an oily texture. It’s difficult to peel off.

Cradle cap won’t bother your baby.

When to see a doctor about cradle cap

Take your child to the General Practitioner (GP) if:

  • the cradle cap doesn’t improve after two weeks, despite the simple treatment described below

  • the rash is red, or your baby is scratching at it

  • the rash seems to be spreading

  • the baby seems irritated by it

  • you’re in any doubt that it is cradle cap.

Cradle cap treatment

Cradle cap doesn’t need to be treated. It usually clears by itself within a few months of birth, as mum’s hormones leave your baby’s bloodstream.

If you want to get rid of the scale, regularly massage baby oil or soft paraffin (Vaseline) into the crusts before bathing your baby. Use mild baby shampoo to wash this out. Over time, the crusts will soften and should lift off easily with a cotton bud or soft brush.

Don’t force the crusts, because this might make your baby’s skin bleed.

If the crusts are inflamed, your doctor might prescribe a combination mild cortisone and anti-yeast cream – for example, Hydrozole cream. Put the cream on your baby according to your doctor’s and the packet instructions.

Babies very rarely need an over-the-counter anti-dandruff shampoo.

Don’t be worried if the cradle cap comes back after treatment. This just means that your baby’s glands are still making extra oil. The cradle cap should clear by 6-12 months. 

© raisingchildren.net.au, translated and adapted with permission