What is Cradle Cap and How to Treat It

Have you noticed that your baby’s scalp has been a bit reddish? This may be the first symptom of cradle cap, also called a honeycomb disease, milk crust, or to get more technical - seborrheic dermatitis. But don’t get alarmed right away, as it’s not that serious. Actually, some call it a ‘baby form of dandruff’. It is not contagious and is certainly not a reflection of the parent’s care for the child. 

A cradle cap most commonly occurs when the infant is 3 months old, and then gradually decreases in the following months. However, in 10 per cent of cases, it occurs with babies younger than one month, and about 7 per cent of children between one and two years old are at risk of getting it. 

But how can you recognise cradle cap, what are the potential causes and what is the course of treatment? Find out in the following article:


A baby which develops cradle cap will have a red, crusty and/or yellow patches on their scalp. This is actually how cradle cap got its name because it usually appears on the part of the head where a baby would wear a cap. Though it may seem irritating and itchy, infants rarely show any signs of discomfort in relation to cradle cap. You are most likely to see it appear on the babies:

  • Scalp
  • Ears and behind the ears
  • Around the eyebrows
  • Neck
  • Diaper area

It can also be found on any area of their body where the baby's skin folds, like under their arms or behind the knees.  

Parts of the baby’s skin will look somewhat greasy and depending on the colour of the baby’s skin, they might get white, yellow, or even darker patches. In some cases, the skin might get reddish instead of scally and, in rare cases, they might lose some hair.  

But not all red patches are cradle cap and your baby might simply be struggling with a regular rash. To determine with absolute certainty, the baby should be taken to a pediatrician who will establish a proper diagnosis and prescribe the most optimal treatment method.

Potential Causes 

So far, no certain causes of cradle cap have been defined. It’s believed that in most cases it appears as a result of a combination of factors, including the excess production of skin oil. 

It’s also possible that some glands on the baby’s bodywork harder than the others, which is likely to be the influence of the mother’s hormones. Additionally, overactive glands may produce excess sebum which prevents the old skin cells from drying and falling off the scalp. 


Generally speaking, cradle cap is not something you should worry about. In fact, cradle cap is known to disappear on its own after a few weeks or months. What you can do to hasten the process is wash the baby’s head with a mild shampoo, use a soft brush to gently remove the scales, or if the scales cannot be loosened, use a bit of mineral oil to soak them. It will take a few minutes or hours for it to soak in, after which the scales should be easier to remove. 

Make sure you do everything as gently as possible. Don’t scratch the baby’s skin in places where cradle cap appears as this may cause light injuries, scarring, and even infection. 

It’s still advisable to take your child to the doctor and have them take a look and establish whether you are dealing with cradle cap or not. A medical professional’s advice is the only one you should be following when it comes to implementing a specific treatment method. In some cases when the mild shampoo can’t do the trick, doctors recommend an antifungal shampoo or a mild steroid cream - but note that these should not be purchased and used on your own. 


Possible Complications

Though it is uncommon for cradle cap to cause any more serious issues, stay alert and take your baby to your doctor immediately in the case where:

  • The skin looks irritated and bright red
  • The infection starts spreading across the body quickly
  • The baby develops an ear infection
  • The signs of thrush occur suddenly
  • Cracked skin and blood appear
  • Baby gets diarrhoea

Can You Prevent Cradle Cap?

After you get rid of it once, you can resort to a few methods to minimise the chances of its recurrence. Follow the doctors advise on how often to wash your baby’s head with a mild shampoo and be sure to regularly use a soft brush for their head. Also, if the pediatrician prescribes a lotion or ointment, use it regularly on the previously infected areas. 


Bottom line

Although cradle cap usually doesn’t seem to bother the infant, it should not be ignored. In some cases, most commonly in the diaper area and other areas where skin folds, it could get infected. If frequent shampooing doesn’t help, even after applying mineral oil, be sure to consult the baby’s pediatrician. They will recommend the best products that will minimise the chances of any more serious infection and reduce the time it takes for a cradle cap to disappear completely.

Finally, be patient. The symptoms might take a while to disappear completely, and all a loving parent can do is stick to the treatment the doctor prescribed and wait for the baby’s dandruff to shed.