CRADLE CAP: THE SCALING, FLAKING RASH ON YOUR NEWBORN’S HEAD

CRADLE CAP: THE SCALING, FLAKING RASH ON YOUR NEWBORN’S HEAD

Have you noticed that your newborn’s head has yellow, scaly flakes on it? If so, your baby probably has a condition called “Infantile Seborrhoeic Dermatitis” (awesome name, right?). Everyone outside of medicine calls it “cradle cap.” Take heart, you didn’t do anything wrong to cause it, but there is a lot you can do to help it. It’s really common. Here’s the tips on caring for it.

Do:

For mild cases:

  1. Try gentle washing/brushing in the bath tub with a mild/hypoallergenic soap. This will loosen the scales.
  2. After the tub, apply a hypoallergenic, fragrance-free moisturizer directly to the scalp (even though it might leave the hair a little greasy).

For more moderate cases:

  1. In addition to the listed above (wash and moisturizers), add an over-the-counter medicated shampoo. Typically you’re looking for ones that have active ingredients like selenium sulfide (found in Selson Blue shampoo), salicylic acid, coal tar, zinc, or ketoconazole. When you use the shampoo, gently scrub on the scalp with your finger tips and then leave it on for 5 mins before rinsing. (Practical tip: I think those shampoos stink. After using it is with my own babies, I would wash with some Dove shampoo just to get rid of the smell, so I could snuggle their heads and not gag). Still coat your baby’s head with moisturizers after you get him or her out of the tub.
  2. Use the shampoo every day or every other day until resolved (it can take a week or two).

For Severe Cases:

  1. See your doctor. There are prescription shampoos and lotions that can be used to help clear it up.

Don’t:

  1. Don’t pick at it. You can introduce infection (only gently brush out and rinse out what will easily flake off).
  2. Don’t put products with fragrance on it as you can make it worse.

Why does it happen?

The exact reason that cradle cap happens is not known. It’s probably one of those multifactorial causes, including overproduction of skin oils (sebum), hormonal fluctuations surrounding birth, and yeast overgrowth. The yeast Malassezia furfur is the usual culprit (another awesome name, I know). This is why you see it more commonly in newborns and the shampoo (which treats that yeast) works.

Is it dangerous or contagious?

Nope and nope. The good news is that cradle cap, while ugly, isn’t a big deal. If you do nothing, it will generally go away on its own (especially the more mild cases). My experience, however, has been that most parents usually want to help hasten that process.

Is it only on the head?

While most common on the head, seborrheic dermatitis will often extend down the sides of the face and around the ears. I’ve also seen it in the eye brows. You would treat in those locations the same as you would the head.

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About The Author

Dr. Monica Wonnacott

I'm a pediatrician and a mom. I've been doing this doctor thing for 10 years, and love it. I'm known for giving parents the straight scoop without always sugar-coating it. And I believe in educating parents. The more you know, the better care you give your kids.

Dr. Monica Wonnacott


I'm a pediatrician and a mom. PediatricAnswers.com is my blog where parents can get the straight scoop on their child's health, largely based on my experience in the office and at home. I don't diagnose on the site, so please don't ask. These are just my opinions. Use this site as a resource. And trust your parent gut.

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