Cradle cap, also called seborrheic dermatitis, is the appearance of dry, crusty or scaly patches on a baby’s scalp. It is very common and not harmful. But it does concern many parents. Here’s what you can do.
The exact cause of cradle cap is unknown. It is believed that a contributing factor may be the hormones that the baby receives from the mother. These may cause an overproduction of oil on the baby’s skin and around hair follicles.
Cradle cap usually appears in the first few weeks of life and lasts several weeks or months. Symptoms appear as thick crusts on the scalp, oily or dry skin covered with flaky white or yellow scales and possibly mild redness. Your baby may also have similar scales on his ears, eyelids, nose, neck, armpit or groin.
Cradle cap is not painful or itchy. If left untreated, it will clear up on its own in a few months. It is often confused with infantile eczema, but eczema causes itching and discomfort. Cradle cap is not contagious or caused by an allergy, infection or poor hygiene.
Cradle cap can be treated at home by washing your baby’s hair every day using a mild baby shampoo. Gently use a washcloth or a soft-bristled brush to try to loosen the scales. Do not pick or scratch the scales. If the scales don't loosen easily, you may try rubbing petroleum jelly or a few drops of mineral oil onto your baby's scalp. Let it soak into the scales for a few minutes or hours if needed. Then brush and shampoo your baby's hair as usual. Do not leave the oil in your baby's hair or the cradle cap will get worse.
Call your doctor if the scales don’t improve in a few days or appear on other parts of your baby’s body. If the cradle cap doesn’t improve your doctor may prescribe a special shampoo or a cortisone cream to use. Don’t use any medicated shampoos or creams without first checking with your pediatrician.
Sometimes yeast infections occur, most likely in the crease areas rather than on the scalp. If this happens then the area will become very reddened and itchy and your pediatrician might prescribe a special cream.
Shampooing your baby's hair every few days can help prevent oil buildup and cradle cap. Stick with a mild baby shampoo unless your pediatrician recommends something stronger.
Rest assured that cradle cap is a common condition and is not serious. It is not an infection or caused by anything you did wrong or could have prevented. It will go away without any scars.
Read these additional articles of interest from the American Academy of Pediatrics:
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