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What is Cradle Cap and How Can it be Treated?

Both of my children had cradle cap when they were newborns. Cradle cap, or seborrheic dermatitis, is a relatively common skin condition that can affect infants between the ages of 2 weeks to 12 months.  It occurs most commonly within the first 3 months of life.  

What Does Cradle Cap Look Like?

Infants will have thick white or yellow greasy scales on the scalp and forehead.  The scales can be slightly reddened at the bases.  Sometimes it can also appear around the nose, ears, skin folds or genitals.  

Most infants are not bothered by cradle cap, as it is a benign inflammatory skin condition that often resolves spontaneously.   Sometimes it can cause mild itchiness.  

How Do You Treat Cradle Cap?

Because cradle cap usually resolves on its own within a few weeks to a few months, the initial recommendations are very conservative.  

Start with emollients such as mineral oil, baby oil, or petroleum jelly.  Apply the emollient to the scales to help loosen them and then use a cloth or infant hairbrush to remove them.  

Hair and scalp can be washed regularly with a mild baby shampoo followed by brushing of scales to reduce flaking.  

Infants generally do not require medicated creams or shampoos to treat cradle cap.  In some severe cases, physicians may prescribe antifungal creams or shampoos.  Your physician will determine if a steroid cream is required to treat your infant’s cradle cap.

Fortunately, both of my children’s cradle cap resolved after a few treatments with mineral oil.

This post was co-authored by Erin Manchuk, BScPharm, BCGP and Stephanie Liu, MD, MSc, CCFP, BHSc.

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