Cradle Cap – Causes, Symptoms & Treatment


Cradle cap is the collective term for infantile seborrheic dermatitis, which causes scaly patches on the scalp of infants. Thick crusts and scales can form, but cradle cap is not a serious condition and disappears within a few months.

What is cradle cap?

Cradle cap is a yellowish greasy and scaly rash that appears on the scalp within the first 3 months after birth.

The inflammatory, non-contagious rash is usually itchy and harmless to a baby. In the most common cases, the cradle cap is located directly on the skullcap, often around the ear, the eyebrows or on the eyelids. Around half of all babies worldwide are affected by cradle cap, most of them suffering from a mild variant of the disease.

Cradle cap is sometimes confused with another skin condition called infantile eczema. The main difference, however, is that eczema usually causes significantly more itching. As a rule, cradle cap will no longer show up at a later age, although recent studies indicate that around 15 percent of affected children are still prone to eczema 10 years later.


The exact cause of cradle cap cannot be clearly identified, and poor hygiene or allergies are by no means decisive.

For one, it is believed that hormones passed from the mother to the baby before birth create excessive production of sebum, which clogs the sebaceous glands and hair follicles. A lack of biotin intake seems to be closely related to this.

Since biotin has an influence on fatty acid biosynthesis, overactive sebum production in the skin of newborns can lead to increased release of a greasy substance that binds old skin cells on the scalp instead of repelling them.

Another cause of cradle cap is a yeast (Malassezia) that multiplies in the sebum together with bacteria. This thesis is supported by the fact that antifungal treatment with ketoconazole is often effective.

Symptoms, Ailments & Signs

The first sign of the presence of cradle cap are changes to the skin, primarily on hairy areas on the head and face. The appearance is strongly reminiscent of burnt milk and smells similar. Using these first signs, cradle cap can be easily differentiated from harmless skin changes in babies, such as “gneiss”.

The symptoms of cradle cap appear immediately after it occurs – the skin itches and shows scaly crusting in the affected areas. Cradle cap occurs from about the 4th month of life – babies of this age cannot be constantly prevented from scratching the affected skin areas. Scratching the individual areas sometimes causes the skin to become inflamed and start to fester .

Such inflamed wounds are uncomfortable and painful, and affected babies are often uncomfortable and weepy. Some babies suffer from sleep disorders , the constant itching – which is usually more severe in the evening than in the morning – does not allow them to rest. Hair usually falls out in the affected areas of the skin. In order for the hair to grow back normally after the cradle cap has subsided, excessive scarring from scratching should be avoided. Cradle cap is often a harbinger of neurodermatitis .

Diagnosis & History

Cradle cap is characterized by slight white or yellowish scaling or thick greasy crusts on the scalp. Similar symptoms can also show up in the ears, eyelids, nose and skin folds. Medical intervention is only recommended when the cradle cap turns red, spreads to the mouth and ears, or diaper rash breaks out.

Severe cases of cradle cap, particularly cracking or bleeding of the skin , can provide a nourishing home for bacterial build-up. Occasionally, cradle cap can also be associated with disorders of the immune system.

A doctor should therefore be consulted in the event of developmental disorders or diarrhea . When consulting a doctor, parents should provide information about the duration of the cradle cap, care products used and countermeasures initiated to facilitate a diagnosis.


The primary cause of cradle cap is various complaints that occur on the scalp. These symptoms are very unpleasant for those affected and can also lead to a feeling of shame or an inferiority complex. The quality of life is significantly reduced by the symptoms. Redness and itching occur on the scalp.

Blisters can also form, but they can also affect the face. Especially on the face, the symptoms lead to reduced aesthetics for the patient. Small children can also suffer from this disease and often have to scratch themselves because of the itching. The itching itself is usually only made worse by this and the constant scratching can also lead to bleeding on the skin.

The bleeding often leads to infections or inflammation. It can also lead to diarrhea or developmental disorders. This disease is usually treated with the help of shampoos or other care products. There are no particular complications and the symptoms can be resolved relatively quickly and easily. The life expectancy of the child is not affected by the symptoms.

When should you go to the doctor?

Cradle cap is one of the natural phenomena that occurs after a person is born. Normally, comprehensive medical examinations of the newborn take place immediately after delivery. Anomalies and faults are noticed and documented. In the first few weeks and months there are further routine examinations by a pediatrician . If there are any irregularities or any special features develop, these can be discussed during the initial examination. Cradle cap is crusting of the skin. If the crusting does not develop independently within the first six months of life, a doctor should be consulted. One of the accompanying symptoms of cradle cap is the unpleasant itching.

Babies in particular are helplessly exposed to the situation. If this is very severe or triggers an increase in symptoms, a doctor should therefore be consulted. If there are open wounds on the body, sterile wound care of the affected areas is necessary. If parents cannot adequately ensure the sterility of the supply, a visit to the doctor is recommended to avoid side effects. In severe cases, there is an alternative risk of sepsis. Blood poisoning can lead to premature death and should therefore be treated medically as soon as possible. If pustules, poplars, swellings or redness appear on the skin, a doctor is needed.

Treatment & Therapy

Cradle cap usually requires no medical treatment and disappears within a few weeks to months. For many mild cases of cradle cap, the use of virgin olive oil has proven itself.

The oil is rubbed into the scalp and left on for 15-20 minutes. Then the head is washed with a mild baby shampoo and the scales are combed out with a very fine comb. The scalp can also be gently massaged with a washcloth or soft brush to loosen the scales.

If frequent shampooing does not produce any change, use of a stronger shampoo containing added tar or an antifungal soap containing ketoconazole (2%) may be indicated. Anti-dandruff shampoos that contain salicylic acid are not recommended for use on babies because the toxic substances can be absorbed through the skin.

In severe cases, hydrocortisone cream may be shifted to reduce redness and inflammation . Massaging the scalp with small amounts of borage oil, aloe gel and tea tree oil twice a day have proven effective as home remedies.

Outlook & Forecast

Cradle cap is usually the sign of chronic atopic skin eczema and therefore cannot be treated causally. Although the itching and the intensity of the suffering can subside in the meantime, more severe attacks can be expected until the child is about two years old. In rare cases, cradle cap can simply heal after a few months. If there is no transition to atopic eczema, it can be expected that the disease will not be activated again and that there will be no associated skin problems afterwards.

If the condition turns into chronic atopic eczema, the prognosis is unfavorable: This condition is lifelong and possible therapies and successes must always be assessed on a case-by-case basis. The exact cause of these chronic skin conditions is not known and dealing with them can be correspondingly difficult. Various factors determine the further prognosis, including, above all, psychosomatic factors and the ability of the person concerned to deal properly with the disease and themselves.

In many cases, very good therapeutic success can be achieved and major cuts in the quality of life are not necessarily to be expected.


Washing your hair daily seems to be the easiest and most effective way to prevent cradle cap . At the same time, it is recommended to ensure a balanced vitamin balance and in particular an adequate intake of vitamin B during pregnancy.


Cradle cap initially causes symptoms on the scalp. The child feels constant itching and redness, which can greatly reduce the quality of life. Aftercare is primarily concerned with alleviating the symptoms. Because if the cradle cap is scratched repeatedly, scars and pigment disorders can remain.

Rubbing with skin-friendly oil can help gently rub off the loose layers of cuticles. This can also prevent skin irritation and allergic reactions. If the cradle cap is improperly removed, bleeding and inflammation can occur. Since cradle cap usually disappears on its own, aftercare includes permanent observation of the development, which can be contained with the help of care products.

You can do that yourself

If the child suffers from cradle cap, various self-help measures and some household and natural resources can help.For mild symptoms, herbal remedies and homeopathic preparations help against cradle cap . The herbs figwort , club moss and chamomile, for example, as well as globules with the active ingredients Calcium carbonicum, Graphites or Viola tricolor are effective. Pansy tea , which is applied to the scales and quickly helps against itching and inflammation, has also proven itself . A saline solution, which you can easily make yourself, helps against weeping spots. Dry scabs can be loosened by rubbing oil on the head at night before going to bed. Both classic olive oil and burdock root and calendula oil are effective .

Parents should make sure that the child does not scrape off the scales themselves. This can irritate the skin and, in the worst case, lead to inflammation. Gentle baby shampoo or an application made from medicinal plants is better. If the symptoms do not go away despite all the measures, it is best to speak to the pediatrician again . If there are signs of neurodermatitis, further precautionary measures must be taken in consultation with the doctor.

Lisa Newlon
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Hello! I am Lisa Newlon, and I am a medical writer and researcher with over 10 years of experience in the healthcare industry. I have a Master’s degree in Medicine, and my deep understanding of medical terminology, practices, and procedures has made me a trusted source of information in the medical world.