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Cradle Cap Treatment: How To Get Rid of This Skin Condition in Infants

Cradle Cap Treatment: How To Get Rid of This Skin Condition in Infants

Parents always hope for a healthy child when their baby is born. And even when a child is perfectly healthy, there are instances when the baby immediately shows some minor problems with their skin. That is the case with “cradle cap,” a condition that caues flakes or scales to appear on your child’s scalp and skin. Also known as pityriasis capitis or infantile seborrheic dermatitis (ISD), this is a condition that some babies are born with, while other babies may develop it later. If your baby has cradle cap, cradle cap treatment may not be necessary, but it can be useful to know how to get rid of the crusty flakes on your child’s perfect crown.

What Is Cradle Cap?

Cradle cap is what happens when crusty or oily scaly patches appear on a newborn baby’s scalp. Luckily for the baby, this is not itchy or painful for them. However, it can cause thick white or yellow scales on the head. And these may be difficult to remove.

Doctors have not yet discovered a clear cause for cradle cap. But hormones that pass from the mother to the baby before birth might be a contributing factor. These hormones can cause overproduction of oil or sebum in the oil glands and hair follicles.

Another possible factor is the yeast or fungus known as Malassezia that grows in the sebum along with bacteria. However, since cardle cap is not contagious, the cause isn’t poor hygiene.

Symptoms of Cradle Cap

Common signs of infantile seborrheic dermatitis include patchy scaling or thick crusts on the scalp and skin flakes. Other symptoms are oily or dry skin covered with flaky white or yellow scales, and some mild redness. Scales may also appear on the eyelids, ears, nose, and groin.

Cradle cap affects infants regardless of ethnic background or country of origin. Up to 71% of infants get cradle cap within the first three months of life.

Cradle Cap Treatment

Cradle cap usually clears up on its own within weeks or a few months. It is viewed largely as benign and will get better no matter what treatment is used.

Home care measures include washing your baby’s scalp daily with a mild shampoo. This can help the parent to loosen and remove the scales. Gentle washing or emollient use with brushing to remove scales is the basic treatment for cradle cap. At no time should parents scratch cradle cap scales.

Antifungal treatments such as ketoconazole have proven effective in treating cradle cap. This lends credence to the theory that yeast is a contributing factor in its presence. However, there has been an argument that ketoconazole 2% shampoo and hydrocortisone 1% cream, while effective, may be no better than a placebo.

Other treatments that have been used to address ISD include softening agents and treatments used for adult seborrheic dermatitis. These include antifungals and corticocsteroids. Still, the safety and effectiveness in treating cradle cap remains uncertain pending further studies.

Olive Oil and Future Studies

Olive oil, which has been used to treat seborrheic dermatitis in adults, has also been explored for cradle cap treatment. While risk-free, concern rises when considering the previously mentioned Malassezia yeast. It may even prove counterproductive to use olive oil as cradle cap treatment. Malassezia actually thrives in olive oil. Thus, it has been suggested that olive oil and other organic oils shouldn’t be used to treat these kinds of inflammatory skin diseases.

A published study from 2019 noted that studies should be conducted using treatments such as mineral or vegetable oils, emollients, shampooing and brushing to remove scales, antifungal agents like azole, steroids, or salicylic acid topical treatments.

Key Takeaways

Cradle cap results in crusty or oily scaly patches that appear on a newborn baby’s head. It is benign and does not cause itching for the baby. Also known as infantile seborrheic dermatitis or pityriasis capitis, cradle cap usually clears up on its own within weeks or months. Doctors have found no clear treatment, although parents may try gentle washing and emollient use while manually removing scales.

Click here for more on baby’s first year.

Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.


The Frequency of Common Skin Conditions in Preschool-aged Children in Australia,

https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamadermatology/article-abstract/479236, Accessed January 10, 2022

Cradle cap: Symptoms & causes, https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/cradle-cap/symptoms-causes/syc-20350396, Accessed January 10, 2022

Treatments for infantile seborrhoeic dermatitis (including cradle cap), an inflammatory, scaly skin condition, https://www.cochranelibrary.com/cdsr/doi/10.1002/14651858.CD011380.pub2/full, Accessed January 10, 2022

What is the best treatment for cradle cap? https://journals.lww.com/ebp/Abstract/2014/04000/What_is_the_best_treatment_for_cradle_cap_.1.aspx, January 10, 2022

Use of Olive Oil for the Treatment of Seborrheic Dermatitis in Children,  https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamapediatrics/article-abstract/1308503, January 10, 2022

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Written by Jason Inocencio Updated 2 weeks ago
Fact Checked by Vincent Sales