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Cradle Cap – Causes And Treatment

on April 7, 2014

My Mum tells me that Cradle Cap is something I suffered from quite badly when I was a baby. Babygirl suffers now as well. Not badly thank goodness, but it was still thick and scaly on the front half of her scalp and dry and scaly on her face.

cradle cap

Picture from the NHS

I have used my homemade olive oil lotion from birth on all my kids so would smother her scalp day and night to soften the scales. I have to admit a perverse enjoyment is gently combing or picking (much to my Mum’s horror) the scales off when they were soft.

Picking them off is not recommended as it can cause infection though.

One poor little chap at Babygirl’s Tiny Talk sing and sign group has terrible Cradle Cap. I have never seen a little one with it this badly and I can clearly understand how it’s name came amount. His mother has tried everything to no avail. She hopes that it will simply disappear over time.

This led me to do a little reading up on the subject!

Traditionally it was just left, but more recently oil have been used to soften the scales.  Olive oil being the most recommended, probably because it is easily available.  But really any oil can be used apparently.  Omega 3 oils, either fish or plant based are also recommended  because of their anti-inflammatory properties.  Other emollient creams are also used now; creams such as Shea Butter and Coconut Oil.

The following are the NHS guidelines.

Cradle Cap

Cradle cap is the yellowish, greasy scaly patches that sometimes appear on the scalp of young babies.
It’s a common, harmless condition that does not usually itch or cause discomfort to the baby.
The medical name for cradle cap is seborrhoeic dermatitis. It usually occurs on the scalp, but can also appear on the face, ears and neck, or in skin folds, such as at the back of the knees and armpits.
Cradle cap usually appears in babies in the first two months and tends to clear up by itself after a few weeks or months, although in rare cases it can last much longer.
What does cradle cap look like?

Cradle cap is easy to recognise by the large, greasy, yellow or brown scales on your baby’s scalp. The scales will eventually start to flake and may make the affected skin appear red. Sometimes, the hair may come away with the flakes.
Read more about the signs of cradle cap.
What causes cradle cap?

Exactly what causes cradle cap is not clear, although it may be linked to overactive sebaceous glands. These are glands in the skin that produce an oily substance called sebum.
Cradle cap is not contagious and it is not due to poor hygiene or an allergy.
Read more about the causes of cradle cap.
Does cradle cap need treatment?

Most cases of cradle cap will clear up on their own in time. Gently washing your baby’s hair and scalp can help prevent a build-up of scales, and massaging baby oil or natural oil – such as almond or olive oil – into their scalp at night can help loosen the crust.
There is usually no need to see your GP if your baby has cradle cap. However, you may want to ask them for advice if your baby’s scalp becomes inflamed or if the cradle cap spreads to other parts of their body.
It’s important not to pick at the scales as this may cause an infection.

Signs of cradle cap

The signs of cradle cap are greasy, yellow or brown patches on top of a baby’s head.

If you notice your child is itching or there is swelling, speak to your GP because it may be another condition, such as atopic eczema.

The signs of cradle cap are:

  • greasy yellow or brown patches on the scalp
  • the affected area of skin appears red
  • scales and flakes on the scalp
  • yellow crusts on the scalp

It’s possible that your baby’s hair may also come away when the flakes fall off or are removed. However, it will grow back.

Cradle cap is not a serious condition and should not cause your child any problems or irritation. However, it is important not to scratch or pick at cradle cap, in case an infection develops.

As well as appearing on the scalp, cradle cap can sometimes spread behind the ears. The patches may also appear in other areas, such as the groin (nappy area), the nose, armpits and the backs of the knees.

When cradle cap appears on a part of the body other than the scalp, it is known as seborrhoeic dermatitis.

Cradle Cap Causes

The cause of cradle cap is not clear, but may be linked to overactive sebaceous glands.
These are glands in the skin that produce an oily substance called sebum.
Some babies are thought to retain some of their mother’s hormones in their bodies for several weeks or months after the birth. These hormones may make the baby’s glands more active and produce more sebum.
The excess sebum causes old skin cells to stick to the scalp, instead of drying up and falling off as they would normally do.
Cradle cap is not contagious and not caused by a lack of cleanliness. If a baby has cradle cap, it does not mean they have an infection or that they are not being looked after properly.
It is thought that a child with cradle cap may be more likely to have other types of seborrhoeic dermatitis, such as dandruff, when they are older.

Treating Cradle Cap

Cradle cap requires no specific treatment and usually clears up on its own after a number of weeks or months.
However, gently washing your baby’s hair and scalp with baby shampoo may help prevent a build-up of flakes.
Gently massaging a small amount of baby oil or natural oil, such as almond or olive oil, into the scalp at night can help to soften and loosen the scales. In the morning use a soft baby brush or cloth to gently remove any loose particles and then wash the hair with a baby shampoo.
You could also try washing their hair more frequently than usual (up to once a day) and brushing the scalp using a soft brush to remove any loose flakes.
It’s important not to pick at the scales because it may cause an infection.
Stronger shampoos

If regularly washing your baby’s hair has not helped, shampoos to help loosen cradle cap are available over the counter at pharmacies. Check the patient information leaflet before using these for any ingredients your child is allergic to and follow the instructions carefully.
Avoid getting any shampoo in your baby’s eyes because they are stronger than ordinary baby shampoo. If you are unsure, speak to your pharmacist for advice.
Shampoos that contain groundnut oil or peanut oil should be avoided in children under five years of age.
See your GP if your baby’s cradle cap is severe, there is swelling or bleeding, or if there are signs of cradle cap on their face or body (seborrhoeic dermatitis).
Treating infection

If your baby’s cradle cap becomes inflamed or infected, a course of antibiotics, or an antifungal cream or shampoo, such as ketoconazole, may be prescribed by a doctor. A mild steroid cream, such as hydrocortisone, may also be recommended for an inflamed rash.

Have you had experience with cradle cap. How did you treat it?

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3 Responses to “Cradle Cap – Causes And Treatment”

  1. Cynthia says:

    Our paediatrician advised shampooing more often. That worked. As for nappy rash, a nurse suggested rinsing baby’s bottom with a mild solution of (cooled naturally) boiled water and vinegar. That also worked for us.

  2. Alana Woods says:

    Cradle cap and nappy rash were common ailments for babies when I had mine — 40+ years ago. Nappy rash because we used cloth nappies and no matter how often you changed them moisture was not directed away from the skin as with the modern disposable nappies. Why cradle cap was more common I can’t say. But as in the advice in your article we used oil and hoped it would clear up!

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