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What is Cradle Cap?

By J. Beam
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Cradle cap is a common skin condition that occurs in infants and babies, usually up to age 6 months. Cradle cap appears as a scaly, flaky or crusty area on the scalp of an infant, usually directly on top, though sometimes in the nape or around the ears. Though it is bothersome to see, it is harmless to the infant and cradle cap is not the result of an infection of any kind nor is it the result of poor hygiene.

The cause of cradle cap is somewhat of a mystery, but many medical professionals believe it is likely the result of overactive sebaceous glands due to hormones present in infants from the mother. As the baby’s skin is losing dead skin cells and generating new ones, the dead skin cells attach themselves to the new ones due to the excess oil underneath. Though cradle cap generally appears in most infants sometime between birth and three months, it can be present in babies up to six months without concern. On rare occasion, dermatitis may develop and persist in babies beyond six months and also affect the skin.

Treatment for cradle cap is usually simple and though there is no medical risk associated with the presence of cradle cap, treatment is usually suggested for improved appearance and to alleviate any itching that may accompany the condition. To treat cradle cap, wash baby’s hair with a mild, tear-free baby shampoo daily. Be sure to rinse all residue from baby’s scalp. Apply a small amount of baby oil or baby lotion to the scalp to help loosen the scales and then gently brush the scalp and hair with a soft-bristled baby brush. Most doctors do not recommend using medicated shampoo on infants, but if cradle cap is a persistent or extreme problem, a medicated shampoo may be prescribed.

If your baby has cradle cap, do not take offense or assume that you are poorly caring for your infant. It is a common condition that any baby can have and generally begins to dissipate between three and six months and then disappears all together. If cradle cap seems to persist or develop beyond six months, check with your pediatrician or family doctor about further possible treatments.

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