First Aid Facts – Cradle Cap

Cradle cap is the greasy, yellow scaly patches that sometimes appear on the scalps of young babies.

It’s a common harmless condition that doesn’t usually itch or cause discomfort to the baby. If your baby is scratching their head or there is swelling, speak to your GP as it may be a sign of another condition, such as atopic eczema.

The medical name for cradle cap is seborrhoeic dermatitis and is when a young infant has a thick, scurfy scalp.

It usually occurs around birth or in the first couple of months of life and is not seen again after the first year. Cradle cap starts with the scalp becoming thickly coated with greasy yellowish scales that stick to the head, making it look crusted. The eyebrows may be scaly and the forehead, temples, neck fold and behind the ears can also be affected, especially if the condition starts later rather than a few weeks after birth. Cradle cap looks unsightly but is not itchy and causes no discomfort to your baby.

Causes

The exact cause of infantile seborrhoeic dermatitis is not known, but it is believed to be linked to developing sebaceous glands. A family history of eczema or other skin conditions does not seem to play a big part.

Treatment

If the cradle cap does not clear by itself within a few months, consult your health visitor or GP since the scale may be due to some other skin problem. If your baby is itchy or the cradle cap persists, it is more likely that your baby has developed childhood atopic eczema.

Cradle cap will clear of its own accord so there is no need to treat it, but the following suggestions may be helpful.

  • To remove crusts and excess scales use a mild baby shampoo and tepid water to wash the scalp daily, but do not rub vigorously. Gentle brushing with a soft brush will help to loosen the scales. If your baby has childhood atopic eczema, however, shampoo is not recommended for babies under one year.
  • Do not pick the scales as this may increase the risk of infection.
  • Soften the scales with emolient (medical moisturiser), unperfumed mineral oil or vegetable oil (e.g. coconut oil) over night. Olive oil is no longer recommended as it has been found to damage the skin barrier.
  • If the scales are not removed with the measures above, soften them with a more greasy emollient (e.g. white petroleum jelly) before washing your baby’s hair.

Eczema Society eczema.org

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