Your precious beautiful baby with his rosy cheeks and fresh, flawless skin now has an oily, yellow scaling or crusting on his scalp. What’s going on?
It’s known as cradle cap, or seborrhea dermatitis – and it’s is a skin condition caused when a baby’s dead skin cells attach themselves to the new skin cells when there is an excess of oil produced.
The issue and cause
This skin condition can present itself in any baby and usually occurs in the first three months to six months of life. On rare occasions, cradle cap may develop all the way up to a year of age. The name is also a bit of a misnomer, since it can affect areas other than the scalp, such as the diaper area or behind the ears.
Doctors have not proven exactly why babies get cradle cap. Cradle cap is not due to poor hygiene or any allergies. It’s speculated that it has something to do with hormonal environment, before the baby is born.
“Parents are often worried that they are doing something wrong,” says southeast Michigan pediatrician Dr. Daniel Schnaar. “It’s a skin condition, so parents shouldn’t worry. It will eventually go away over the first several weeks to the first few months.”
According to Dr. Richard Weiermiller, a local pediatrician and internist, about 40 percent of babies get it.
Cradle cap is very easy to treat by using a baby shampoo to clean the affected area. If it is more troublesome to alleviate, then a once-a-week scalp treatment is recommended.
Schnaar suggests parents use an unscented baby healing ointment called Aquaphor. It needs to be rubbed in the area and left on overnight. The next morning, use a medicated shampoo like Sebulex or Selsun Blue.
“Parents need to make sure the medicated shampoo does not contain tar, because it is unhealthy for the baby,” says Schnaar.
Afterwards, parents can use a low strength cortisone cream.
“If the scalp is not responding to treatment, a pediatrician needs to be seen, because it might be infected,” Schnaar adds.
Not a big concern
Weiermiller says sometimes no treatment is necessary and it will leave on its own.
“This is not a serious skin condition and really does not need to be treated as such,” says Weiermiller. “Even without treatment, it will definitely go away over time. It is not permanent.”
According to Weiermiller, one of the best things to do is to take petroleum jelly (Vaseline) and massage it on the scalp right before bed. The scales will eventually start to fall off this way or can be brushed out.
Once cradle cap is gone, it usually does not come back.
“Cradle cap will not leave scarring, so parents have nothing to fear,” says Weiermiller.
This post was originally published in 2011 and has been updated for 2016.