Cradle Cap

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 is harmless. It often doesn't cause itching, but sometimes it can. Your baby may be fussy.

The scales are caused by an increased production of oil, possibly from maternal hormones. Scales 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 aren't 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 most commonly peaks at about 3 months of age and goes away by 1 year of age.

Home care

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.

General care

  • 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 care

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 get medical advice

Call your child's healthcare provider right away if any of these occur:

  • Fever (see Fever and Children below)

  • Scales that don’t go away or spread

  • Scales that come back

  • Redness or swelling of the skin

  • Signs of pain

  • Bad-smelling fluid leaking from the skin

Fever and children

Use a digital thermometer to check your child’s temperature. Don’t use a mercury thermometer. There are different kinds and uses of digital thermometers. They include:

  • Rectal. For children younger than 3 years, a rectal temperature is the most accurate.

  • Forehead (temporal). This works for children age 3 months and older. If a child under 3 months old has signs of illness, this can be used for a first pass. The provider may want to confirm with a rectal temperature.

  • Ear (tympanic). Ear temperatures are accurate after 6 months of age, but not before.

  • Armpit (axillary). This is the least reliable but may be used for a first pass to check a child of any age with signs of illness. The provider may want to confirm with a rectal temperature.

  • Mouth (oral). Don’t use a thermometer in your child’s mouth until they are at least 4 years old.

Use the rectal thermometer with care. Follow the product maker’s directions for correct use. Insert it gently. Label it and make sure it’s not used in the mouth. It may pass on germs from the stool. If you don’t feel OK using a rectal thermometer, ask the healthcare provider what type to use instead. When you talk with any healthcare provider about your child’s fever, tell them which type you used.

Below are guidelines to know if your young child has a fever. Your child’s healthcare provider may give you different numbers for your child. Follow your provider’s specific instructions.

Fever readings for a baby under 3 months old:

  • First, ask your child’s healthcare provider how you should take the temperature.

  • Rectal or forehead: 100.4°F (38°C) or higher

  • Armpit: 99°F (37.2°C) or higher

Fever readings for a child age 3 months to 36 months (3 years):

  • Rectal, forehead, or ear: 102°F (38.9°C) or higher

  • Armpit: 101°F (38.3°C) or higher

Call the healthcare provider in these cases:

  • Repeated temperature of 104°F (40°C) or higher in a child of any age

  • Fever of 100.4° (38°C) or higher in baby younger than 3 months

  • Fever that lasts more than 24 hours in a child under age 2

  • Fever that lasts for 3 days in a child age 2 or older

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