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What’s cradle cap?
Q: My baby’s scalp has been crusty and flaking. My mum said it was cradle cap. What is this? Can it spread to other parts of her body?
A: Jenna, cradle cap is a crusty, scaly scalp rash that’s very common in healthy babies. It’s thought to be caused by an overactivity of the baby’s oil glands in the scalp from the mother’s hormones passing to the baby before birth. Sometimes babies can also get this scaly skin in other places where there are oil glands, like around the ears, eyebrows, neck folds and armpits. When the rash is found in other places, it’s also known as seborrhea. But this is not a contagious condition, so you don’t have to worry about it spreading.

Cradle cap is most common in babies in the first few months of life, and it generally goes away on its own by 6 to 12 months of age. You don’t have to do anything to treat cradle cap. But if you want to try to treat it, rub a small amount of olive oil or baby oil into your baby’s scalp to help soften and loosen the scales. Then you can wash your baby’s scalp with baby shampoo and gently try to brush off the scales with a soft brush or a towel.

Your baby’s cradle cap will probably clear up in a few months. But she’s over 6 months and still has a lot of cradle cap, be sure to have the doctor check her scalp. She might recommend that you wash her hair with a medicated seborrhea shampoo that contains selenium, salicylic acid or tar. Be careful, however, because these shampoos are irritating if they get in her eyes.

If the cradle cap is very red and cracking, the doctor might recommend over-the-counter hydrocortisone cream dabbed on her scalp a couple times a day, which may help reduce the inflammation. Occasionally the doctor may determine that the scalp has a fungal or bacterial infection and prescote anti-fungal or antibiotic cream or ointment to treat it.

Karen Sokal-Gutierrez M.D., M.P.H. Pediatrician