When scaly, greasy patches of skin appear on a baby’s head, it's called cradle cap (seborrheic dermatitis). Patches may also appear on the eyebrows, face, ears, and neck. The patches vary in color from white to yellow or brown. The skin scales often stick to the hair. Cradle cap often doesn't cause itching, but sometimes it can. Your baby may be fussy.
The scales are caused by an increased production of oil. They may also be caused by an overgrowth of yeast that normally lives on the skin. Cradle cap is not caused by an allergy or poor hygiene. The scales are not harmful. And they can’t be spread from person to person.
Cradle cap often goes away on its own in a few weeks. It can be treated by removing the patches. This is done by washing your baby’s scalp each day with a gentle shampoo. The shampoo softens and loosens the scales. They can then be gently brushed or combed off. Cradle cap is usually gone by 18 months of age.
Your child’s healthcare provider may prescribe a medicated shampoo to help remove the scales. Your child may also be given a medicine for the itching. Follow all instructions for giving these medicines to your child.
Wash your child’s scalp daily with a gentle shampoo. Once the cradle cap is gone, wash your child’s hair every few days.
Use a soft brush or a baby comb to gently remove the scales. This may be done before or after rinsing off shampoo.
Put a few drops of mineral or baby oil on stubborn patches. Let the oil sit for a few minutes or overnight. Then gently brush out the scales.
Massage your baby’s scalp softly with your fingers to stimulate circulation. This may promote healing.
Be patient as you pick off the greasy scales. They will stick to the hair. They may take time to remove.
Wash your hands with soap and warm water before and after caring for your child.
Follow up with your child’s healthcare provider, or as advised.
Special note to parents
Some parents worry they will harm the soft spot (fontanel) on top of their baby’s head. Gently rubbing or brushing this area will not harm the skin or your baby.
When to seek medical advice
Call your child's healthcare provider right away if any of these occur:
Fever of 100.4°F (38°C) or higher, or as advised
Scales that don’t go away or spread
Scales that come back
Redness or swelling of the skin
Signs of pain
Foul-smelling fluid leaking from the skin