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What is cradle cap?

Image of a baby with cradle cap
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If your newborn has a dry or flaky scalp, don’t be alarmed. It’s more than likely cradle cap, a skin condition also known as infantile seborrheic dermatitis that often affects babies in the first 3 months after birth. Cradle cap may look uncomfortable but it’s completely harmless and won’t cause your baby any distress or pain. It usually clears up within 6 to 12 months but there are also things you can do to help treat it.

Here we share the most common symptoms of cradle cap and treatments you can try to make it better.

Common symptoms of cradle cap

Cradle cap presents similar symptoms to dandruff. These include:

  • Thick patches of white, yellow or grey scaly skin
  • Flaky, waxy or greasy skin
  • Redness on the skin where patches have flaked off

Cradle cap usually appears in smaller patches on the head and face but can sometimes cover the scalp or be found on other parts of the body including the ears, neck, armpits and knees. It can also appear in the nappy area.

Is cradle cap eczema?

Eczema and cradle cap have very similar symptoms however they are not exactly the same. Cradle cap is a type of seborrheic dermatitis, a form of dermatitis that is related to eczema (also known as atopic dermatitis). However, baby eczema is typically uncomfortable, itchy and painful whereas cradle cap doesn’t cause any irritation.

If your baby has cradle cap, it doesn’t necessarily mean they will have eczema, however this is more common in severe cases.

What causes cradle cap?

The cause of cradle cap is unknown but what we do know is that it is not contagious, or caused by allergies, poor hygiene or infection. It’s most likely due to your baby’s skin glands producing more oil (sebum) than necessary, causing dead skin cells to stick to the scalp.

Unfortunately cradle cap can not be prevented however it is easily treated and doesn’t affect every infant.

How to get rid of cradle cap?

Cradle cap usually goes away on its own with time however there are some things you can do to help relieve symptoms including a number of over the counter and at-home remedies.

Don’ts for treating cradle cap

  • Pick or scratch the crusts as this will increase the risk of infection
  • Do not use peanut oil in case of allergies
  • Do not use olive oil (it is not always suitable to use on skin)
  • Do not use adult shampoos or soap

Dos’ for treating cradle cap

  • Wash with mild baby shampoo and warm water every few days whilst bathing
  • Gently massage the scalp to remove crusts
  • Moisturise the scalp with emollient or scalp cream after bathing
  • Gently use a soft brush on your baby’s scalp to loosen flakes
  • Consider using white petroleum jelly to help soften the scales
  • Keep the nappy area clean and dry
  • Be patient - cradle cap can take a few weeks or months to clear up

In some severe cases of cradle cap, a specialist steroid cream may be prescribed to help treat it. This is normally if your baby’s scalp is inflamed or infected - you shouldn’t use it unless a medical professional has told you to do so.

If you’re not sure which baby products are suitable to use for cradle cap, speak to a pharmacist at your local LloydsPharmacy. They’ll be able to recommend emollients, shampoos and creams to use on your baby’s scalp and nappy area.

When to see a doctor for cradle cap?

Cradle cap can usually be treated by yourself at home, however if your baby’s symptoms don't clear up on their own, you may wish to see a GP.

You should also see a doctor if they have cradle cap all over their body or if any areas look swollen, bleed or leak fluid. If the rash feels warm, smells or becomes itchy then it may be infected and will require medical treatment or specialist steroid creams.

If you’re ever concerned about your baby’s health, seek medical advice as soon as possible.

Cradle cap can look a little worrying, but rest assured, it is a common skin condition that many babies will have within the first 3 months after birth. It’s usually nothing to be concerned about and isn’t uncomfortable or painful for your baby. Dry and flaky crusts on the scalp are the main symptom but it can also make hair fall out - this happens when the scales flake off and it will grow back eventually.

Cradle crap will normally clear away on its own within the first 6 to 12 months however there are some home remedies and gentle products you can use including a soothing emollient and scalp cream.

Once your baby’s cradle cap has cleared up, you can keep it at bay by washing their hair with baby shampoo and gently brushing their scalp.

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Discover our full range of baby and child products that can help treat cradle cap and other common conditions including nappy rash. You can also find more expert advice at LloydsPharmacy including our guide to baby milk, how to care for your baby’s skin and top tips for baby sun care.