Cradle Cap: What it is & What to do

Cradle Cap: What it is & What to do

By Kathryn Peck

Cradle cap; it was a term I’d never heard before until I became a mom. In fact, I was so smitten with the new little baby in my arms and so worried about his delicateness that I didn’t even notice his cradle cap until the pediatrician pointed it out.

I was so smitten with the new little baby in my arms and so worried about his delicateness that I didn’t even notice his cradle cap until the pediatrician pointed it out.

Turns out cradle cap, also but less commonly called seborrheic dermatitis, is a harmless and common skin condition among little ones. In fact, records indicate that 70 percent of infants are affected with cradle cap by the time they’re 12 weeks old. You might notice some crusty flakes or oily patches of skin on your baby’s scalp; perhaps they’re even yellowish in color – that’s most likely cradle cap. It can also show on baby’s forehead, face and upper body (where there are oil glands in skin folds on arms and legs), but this is less common. 

What causes cradle cap? Experts aren’t exactly sure, but there are theories that revolve around the body’s oil production and oil glands; another theory exists among experts about the presence of a yeast called Malassezia that’s found on the skin. Either way, it doesn’t last forever.  

All four of my babies have had cradle cap; some more severe than others. It’s not contagious or painful, and it usually clears up on its own in a few weeks as your baby's oil glands and hormones quiet down and their bodies adjust to the new environment. It can, however, be unsightly on our otherwise picture-perfect babies. If there’s any question about redness, itchiness or severity, certainly ask your pediatrician, but in the majority of cases you can let it run its course or take a stab at any of these at-home treatment options in the meantime. 

  1. Shampoo your baby’s scalp daily with a mild baby shampoo.

    Try: Mustela Foam Shampoo for Newborns, Wash with Water 3-in-1 Baby Cleanser Sweetpea & Me, or Cetaphil Baby Wash & Shampoo.

  2. Rub baby oil, mineral oil, a mild lotion, or even petroleum jelly onto your baby’s scalp before bathtime. Let it sit for a few minutes for milder cases and wash with a hypoallergenic shampoo to rinse away the oil or lotion. Depending on the severity (i.e. is scales are thicker), it’s often okay to leave the oil or lotion on for longer – even overnight if necessary.

    Try: Earth Mama Calendula Baby Oil for Infant Massage, Aveeno Baby Eczema Therapy Nighttime Balm with Natural Oatmeal, California Baby Calendula Organic Soothing Extract.
  1. Brush your baby’s scalp with a soft brush. In the bath, try a soft silicone brush or washcloth on the scalp, but out of the bath a soft brush will suffice. (Don’t pick or peel cradle cap, as it could lead to irritation.)

    Try: Green Sprouts Baby Brush & Comb Set, Safety 1st Sooth Scrub Wet Brush; or the 3-Step Cradle Cap System by Fridababy.  

  2. Humidifiers can also be beneficial for keeping air and skin moist, and when reading labels, keep your eyes peeled for ingredients like jojoba oil, Shea butter, avocado oil and even beeswax, all of which can help your baby’s skin. 

Cradle cap happens to a lot of babies. Take it from this mom, there are plenty of other parenting worries on the horizon, but cradle cap shouldn’t be one of them.


Please note: This is for educational and informational purposes only and is not meant to substitute individual medical advice. For specific and individual advice, always talk to your doctor.

About the author: Kathryn is the owner of Bicycle Pie and mom of 4 little ones. Also a writer, editor, and former owner of one of Boston's premiere baby boutiques, she continues to write about motherhood, children's products, family life, and all other things that test our skills and patience as parents.

About the reviewer: Dr. Samantha Ball, DO, is a pediatrician, cat mom, and advocate for children’s overall health and wellness. She is continually focused on supporting families through all stages in a realistic and evidence-based way. In addition to practicing medicine in Georgia, she shares experiences and her perspectives on topics including parenting tips, mental and physical health, and how to navigate the unexpected challenges that come about when raising kids.

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