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What is cradle cap in infants?



Brought to you by the Kiindred Editors. Our team are committed to researching and writing on all the things we know you will want to know about, at each stage of your pregnancy and parenthood journey.
Created on Oct 18, 2023 · 4 mins read
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You’re used to staring at your beautiful baby, and with all those hours spent feeding you think you know every inch of their adorable little body. But suddenly one day you look at that little newborn scalp and notice it is covered in dry, flaky, yellowy scales. And you might panic. But don’t, because it’s just cradle cap and it’s extremely common in infants. In fact, at least 50% of babies get it!  

The good news is that you don’t have to be overly concerned if your baby has yellow or white scales on their scalp, because even though it may look serious and unpleasant cradle cap typically doesn’t cause any discomfort to the baby.

Cradle cap, also known as infantile seborrheic dermatitis, is a harmless condition that usually appears within the first few months of a baby’s life, and it can last for several weeks or even months. It is thought to be caused by an overproduction of oil on the scalp, which can result in the buildup of dead skin cells. While the exact cause of cradle cap is not fully understood, it is not contagious, and it is not a sign of poor hygiene.

There’s also a theory that hormones from the mother could be a contributing factor resulting in too much oil on the baby’s scalp. Yeast growth on the skin, in combination with the over-production of this oil, may also play a role in the development of cradle cap.

Fortunately, cradle cap can be easily managed with simple at-home remedies, such as gentle washing with a mild shampoo and brushing the scalp with a soft-bristled brush. In severe cases, a pediatrician may recommend medicated shampoos or creams to help alleviate the condition. With proper care, most cases of cradle cap in infants will clear up on their own within a few months.

Just remember, cradle cap in your newborn has nothing to do with hygiene or anything you have done – or aren’t doing – which is a common worry for many first-time parents. It can sometimes be stubborn to clear up without help but with a few simple steps, you can manage it easily within your normal routine.

What does cradle cap in infants look like?

Cradle cap looks like yellow or white scales or flakes on the scalp of a newborn. The scales may also appear greasy or crusty. In some cases, the scales can be thick and difficult to remove. Cradle cap can occur in small patches or cover the entire scalp.

The appearance of cradle cap can sometimes be mistaken for other conditions such as eczema or psoriasis, which can cause redness and inflammation. However, cradle cap typically does not cause redness or irritation.

What can you do to treat cradle cap? 

Wash your baby’s hair with a mild, non-medicated shampoo, such as Mustela Newborn Foam Shampoo followed by the Mustela Cradle Cap Cream. Leave the cream on overnight and wipe it off the next morning with a washer dampened with water or wash it off with the shampoo again if you prefer. Repeat this process for 14 days, even if cradle cap seems to disappear as you want to make sure all the fungal/yeast cells have gone.

Christine Catling

Continue using the Mustela Newborn Foam Shampoo, made with 99% natural ingredients, in your baby’s bath routine, to help prevent the cradle cap from coming back.

Make sure you do not pick or scratch the scales as that will only cause more irritation and possible infection.

How can cradle cap in infants be avoided?

There really is no guaranteed way to avoid cradle cap, however maintaining good hygiene practices, including washing their hair regularly and brushing it daily will help.

However, if your at-home remedies don’t seem to be working or the condition gets worse, you should speak with your doctor who may recommend further treatment.

Other things to know about cradle cap:

  • It can appear on other parts of the body: While cradle cap usually appears on the scalp, it can also occur on other parts of the body where there are oil glands, such as the eyebrows, ears, and nose.
  • It is more common in boys than girls: Studies have shown that boys are more likely to develop cradle cap than girls, although the reason for this is not entirely clear.
  • It may recur: Even after successful treatment, cradle cap can come back, especially if the baby is exposed to irritants or if their skin is sensitive.
  • It does not cause hair loss: While cradle cap can make the hair look greasy and matted, it does not cause hair loss. The hair will continue to grow normally.

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