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Cradle cap

Dr Karen Martin
Reviewed by Dr Karen MartinReviewed on 19.10.2023 | 2 minutes read

Cradle cap, a type of seborrheic dermatitis, is a skin condition common in babies. It usually occurs in their first six weeks of life. It causes yellow scaly patches on the scalp or face that can appear oily. A red rash can emerge under the scales or in folds of skin, such as the groin area.

In most cases, this gets better on its own over two to eight weeks. It is not harmful to your baby and should not cause them discomfort or to be unwell.

Adults do not get cradle cap, but they may suffer other forms of seborrheic dermatitis, such as dandruff or a red, flaky rash over their nose and cheeks.

Doctor’s advice

Is it contagious?

This condition is not contagious.

Healthwords pharmacists' top tips

Cradle cap will usually clear by itself, but you can try some products to help things along. These aim to cleanse the skin and moisturize the scalp gently. Use a gentle shampoo to clean the scalp at bath time – non-fragranced or hypoallergenic is preferable.

Don’t try to pick off the scales because of the risk of infection; let them come off naturally, or use a very soft brush while the shampoo is on to gently loosen and remove the dead skin flakes.

Soon after bathing, and while the scalp is damp, gently pat it down with a towel and use baby oil or coconut oil to moisturize the scalp. This will help to lock in moisture and prevent the build-up of dry scale on the scalp. Coconut oil can also be applied daily to moisturize the scalp between washes – it has the added benefit of natural antifungal properties. Dentinox cradle cap shampoo is one example of a gentle shampoo that contains coconut oil derivatives and other additives to get to work on the condition.

Other vegetable-based oils can be used, but avoid peanut oil, as this can introduce the risk of allergy. Avoid soap on the cradle cap as it can irritate.

When should I see my doctor?

Seek advice initially from your pharmacist if it has persisted for more than three to four weeks, you think it may be infected or irritating, or if there is any bleeding.

If a doctor visit is needed, they will ask for any relevant medical history, ask what you've tried already and examine the area to confirm it is cradle cap. They may prescribe an antifungal plus a steroid cream, depending on the severity and the baby’s age. Only use these on a doctor’s suggestion, don’t buy it over-the-counter.

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This article has been written by UK-based doctors and pharmacists, so some advice may not apply to US users and some suggested treatments may not be available. For more information, please see our T&Cs.
Dr Karen Martin
Reviewed by Dr Karen Martin
Reviewed on 19.10.2023
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