Symptoms of Cradle Cap

  • Thick, oily, yellow scales or patches on the scalp, usually in infants three to nine months of age
  • Scales may also be present behind the ears, around the eyebrows, or, infrequently, in the skin creases of the groin
  • Skin in affected areas may be slightly red; only rarely does the skin itch

What Is Cradle Cap?

Cradle cap is a common skin condition in infants marked by oily, yellow patches of scales on the scalp. It is very similar to dandruff in older children and adults. When it spreads to other areas of the skin, such as the eyebrows or behind the ears, it is known by the medical name seborrhea (seborrheic dermatitis).

Cradle cap is most common in infants between three and nine months of age, but it can occur in children up to three years of age. It is not contagious. Typically, flare-ups will last for several weeks and then subside, but the condition often reappears.

What Causes Cradle Cap?

No one knows the exact cause of cradle cap. A likely cause is the excessive release of sebum, an oily substance produced by glands in the scalp and other areas. Sebum accumulates in these glands, and then skin cells die and slough off, producing the oily, sticky scales.

What if You Do Nothing about Cradle Cap?

Cradle cap is usually harmless, although it may be unsightly and does tend to recur. It should not, however, be left unattended, because the buildup of scales may weaken the underlying skin, predisposing it to infection. In fact, if the scales are left to accumulate, an infection or inflammation may develop under the dead skin. Cradle cap does not leave any scars or other lasting effects.

Home Remedies for Cradle Cap

Most cases of cradle cap are easily treated at home. You will probably need to apply these measures for at least several consecutive days to clear up the condition. Cradle cap often recurs, so take preventive steps as well.

  • Loosen the scales. Massage warm mineral oil or baby oil into the scalp to loosen and soften scales. Leave it on overnight, or apply warm, moist towels over the oiled scalp for an hour or so. Make sure the towels stay warm so that the baby’s body temperature does not drop.
  • Then shampoo. In the morning, or after warm towels have been applied, wash the hair with a mild baby shampoo. Use special care when washing around the fontanelle, or soft spot, but don’t overlook this area of the scalp. (New mothers may hesitate to wash the area thoroughly because of concern about the soft spot—but the skin there is as resilient as the rest of the baby’s skin.) Rinse thoroughly. Avoid using over-the-counter dandruff shampoos on infants and young children unless your doctor instructs otherwise. These shampoos contain chemicals that could be harmful to an infant or young child.
  • Brush. To help minimize scale buildup, brush the baby’s hair daily using a soft-bristle brush, which will loosen any remaining scales. Scales can then be removed with a fine-tooth comb.
  • Use an OTC cream. Applying an over-the-counter corticoid cream or ointment two to three times a day, especially if the skin is inflamed, can help bring relief.

Prevention of Cradle Cap

No specific measures will prevent the first episode of cradle cap. Regular applications of oil as well as daily hair brushing may help prevent recurrences. Gentle shampooing at least twice a week may also help.

When To Call Your Doctor

Call your physician if the condition seems to be getting worse despite several weeks of home treatment, or if it spreads to other areas of the body. Also call your doctor if affected areas appear to be infected or inflamed, with excessive redness, pain, crusting, itching, or oozing.

What Your Doctor Will Do

Your doctor will examine the skin to make sure your child has cradle cap and not some other condition, such as dermatitis, a fungal infection, or an allergic reaction. Some sample flakes from the scalp may be taken for laboratory examination. The doctor may prescribe a mild topical corticosteroid cream, such as 1 percent hydrocortisone, to reduce inflammation. If any areas have become infected, antibiotics or antifungal creams may also be prescribed.

For More Information about Cradle Cap

  • American Academy of Pediatrics


The Complete Home Wellness Handbook

John Edward Swartzberg, M.D., F.A.C.P., Sheldon Margen, M.D., and the editors of the UC Berkeley Wellness Letter

Updated by Remedy Health Media

Publication Review By: the Editorial Staff at

Published: 09 Aug 2010

Last Modified: 02 Dec 2014