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Cradle Cap Information
Cradle cap is the common name for seborrheic dermatitis affecting the scalp of newborns. It is often seen in babies younger than 6 months. Normal skin yeast called Pityrosporum ovale lives in oil-rich skin regions and plays a role in this disorder; the changes seen in the skin are due to the body’s inflammatory response to the yeast. The skin becomes flaky and inflamed, sometimes with a yellowish scale. If the scale is picked off, the skin underneath will look pink, red, or dark brown. Cradle cap is not serious, but the areas can become infected if not treated properly.
Any baby can develop cradle cap. It is not contagious and does not occur because of poor hygiene.
Who's At Risk?
- Cradle cap is most often seen in newborns and infants younger than 6 months.
- Cradle cap typically resolves by age 6-12 months.
- Severe cradle cap may be associated with a disease that causes a lowered immune system (immunodeficiency).
Signs & Symptoms
In newborns and infants:
- The scalp is itchy and sheds white, oily skin flakes. When severe, the scalp can have thick, yellow scale and crust.
- One or more patches of red, purplish, brown, gray, or whitish scaly skin on the scalp, hairline, forehead, eyebrows, eyelids, creases of the nose and ears, or ear canals can be seen.
- In people with darker skin colors, some of the patches might look lighter in color (hypopigmented).
Scales on the scalp can be removed. Apply warm oil (be careful not to apply oil that is too hot for your baby’s skin) to the scalp for a few hours. Before bathing your baby, gently rub their scalp with a soft-bristle baby brush, and then wash the hair with a gentle shampoo (eg, Johnson’s Baby Shampoo) or an over-the-counter antidandruff shampoo, such as a shampoo containing 2% zinc pyrithione (Head & Shoulders). Be careful not to get medicated shampoo in the baby’s eyes.
Some over-the-counter creams will help if the medicated shampoo is not working well enough. These are added to the shampoo until you notice improvement. You can stop using them and then start using them again temporarily as needed. These include:
- Creams that reduce the Pityrosporum yeast (clotrimazole [Lotrimin], miconazole [Monistat]).
- Hydrocortisone (eg, Cortaid) cream.
Your child’s medical professional may recommend a prescription shampoo. If your baby’s skin is inflamed, they may prescribe a mild corticosteroid cream or solution. If your baby has a skin infection, the medical professional can prescribe antibiotics.
See your child’s medical professional or a dermatologist if there is no response to self-care measures.
Be sure to call your child’s medical professional if the cradle cap looks inflamed and oozes or if your baby has a fever. These could be signs of an infection.
Bolognia J, Schaffer JV, Cerroni L. Dermatology. 4th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2018.
James WD, Elston D, Treat JR, Rosenbach MA. Andrew’s Diseases of the Skin. 13th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2019.
Kang S, Amagai M, Bruckner AL, et al. Fitzpatrick’s Dermatology. 9th ed. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill Education; 2019.
Paller A, Mancini A. Paller and Mancini: Hurwitz Clinical Pediatric Dermatology. 6th ed. St. Louis, MO: Elsevier; 2022.
Last modified on October 10th, 2023 at 8:54 am
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