Children's Hospital Colorado

Cradle Cap

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  • A scaly rash on the scalp that starts in newborns

Symptoms of Cradle Cap

  • Yellow scales and crusts attached to the scalp
  • Occurs in patches
  • Scales can be greasy or dry
  • Not itchy or painful
  • Begins in the first 2 to 6 weeks of life

Cause of Cradle Cap

  • Cradle cap is probably caused by hormones from the mother. These hormones cross the placenta before birth. The hormones cause the oil glands in the skin to become overactive. They then release more oil than normal.
  • Dead skin cells normally fall off. The extra oil causes these cells to "stick" to the skin. These cells form yellow crusts and scales on the scalp.

Call Doctor Now or Go to ER

  • Baby under 1 month old with tiny water blisters or pimples in a cluster
  • Your child looks or acts very sick

Call Doctor Within 24 Hours

  • Baby under 1 month old with any water blisters or pimples
  • You think your child needs to be seen

Call Doctor During Office Hours

  • Raw rash behind the ears
  • Rash spreads beyond the scalp
  • Cradle cap gets worse with treatment
  • Cradle cap lasts longer than 12 months
  • You have other questions or concerns

Self Care at Home

  • Mild cradle cap

Care Advice for Cradle Cap

  1. What You Should Know About Cradle Cap:
    • Cradle cap is a common skin condition of newborns.
    • It's caused by overactive oil glands in the scalp.
    • It's harmless and will go away on its own. But it takes time.
    • Here is some care advice that should help.
  2. Shampoo Daily:
    • Wash the hair with an anti-dandruff shampoo (such as Head and Shoulders). Do this twice a week. No prescription is needed. Note: The daily use of anti-dandruff shampoo isn't approved until after 2 years old. But, using it twice a week is fine.
    • On the other days, wash the hair with baby shampoo.
  3. Scalp Massage:
    • While the hair is lathered, massage the scalp with a soft brush. You can also use a rough washcloth or your fingers for 5 minutes. Don't worry about hurting the soft spot.
  4. Baby Oil:
    • If the scalp has thick crusts (scales), put some baby oil on the scalp. Do this for 15 minutes before shampooing to soften the crusts.
    • Wash all the oil off, however, or it may worsen the cradle cap. (Reason: The oil blocks the oil glands on the baby's scalp.)
    • Do not use olive oil. (Reason: may increase the growth of yeast)
    • Cradle cap lotions for loosening up the scales are also available without a prescription. Apply the lotion 15 minutes before shampooing.
  5. Steroid Cream:
    • If the rash on the scalp is red and irritated, use 1% hydrocortisone cream. An example is Cortaid. No prescription is needed.
    • Put this on once a day.
    • After 1 hour, wash it off with soap and water.
    • Do this for 7 days or less.
  6. Expected Course:
    • Cradle cap will eventually go away on its own between 6 and 12 months of age. Usually, it doesn't cause any symptoms (such as pain or itching).
    • Therefore, treatment is optional. It is mainly done for cosmetic reasons.
    • Shampoos, lotions and brushing will reduce the thickness of the scales. They will usually make them go away sooner.
  7. Return to Child Care:
    • Cradle cap cannot be spread to others.
    • Your child does not need to miss any child care.
  8. Call Your Doctor If:
    • Gets worse with treatment
    • Lasts over 12 months of age
    • You think your child needs to be seen

Disclaimer

The information contained in these topics is not intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice, it is provided for educational purposes only. You assume full responsibility for how you choose to use this information.

Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider before starting any new treatment or discontinuing an existing treatment. Talk with your healthcare provider about any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Nothing contained in these topics is intended to be used for medical diagnosis or treatment.

  • Not a Substitute - The information and materials in Pediatric HouseCalls Symptom Checker should not be used as a substitute for the care and knowledge that your physician can provide to you.
  • Supplement - The information and materials presented here in Pediatric HouseCalls Symptom Checker are meant to supplement the information that you obtain from your physician. If there is a disagreement between the information presented herein and what your physician has told you -- it is more likely that your physician is correct. He or she has the benefit of knowing your child's medical problems.
  • Limitations - You should recognize that the information and materials presented here in Pediatric HouseCalls Symptom Checker have the following limitations, in comparison to being examined by your own physician:
    • You can have a conversation with your child's doctor.
    • Your child's doctor can perform a physical examination and any necessary tests.
    • Your child could have an underlying medical problem that requires a physician to detect.
    • If your child is taking medications, they could influence how he experiences various symptoms.

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