Cradle Cap In Babies: 3 Things New Parents Need to Know

By Chad Montgomery
cradle cap in babies

Becoming a parent, especially for the first time is a journey full of joys, surprises, and challenges. First-time parents are more concerned and worried about almost everything related to their bundle of joy. 

One day you are playing with your baby and notice yellow crusty flakes on their scalp. And wonder what on earth is this and why is it happening to your baby? Don’t worry! It is cradle cap, and it is very common in babies under the age of 12 months.

In this article, we will provide insight on 3 things a new parent needs to understand about cradle cap in babies.

If you have any concerns, trust your parental instinct and visit your healthcare provider.

1. What Is Cradle Cap?

Before understanding anything about cradle cap you first need to know what cradle cap is and how does it look like.

Cradle cap which is medically known as Seborrheic Dermatitis. It is a common skin condition that affects infants in the first few months of their life. 

Almost 70% of babies are affected by it before they turn 3 months old, and 10 % experience it even before they get 1 month old.

It usually appears as crusty, scaly, yellow flakes. It gets its name cardle cap, because it mostly appears on the scalp and covers the baby’s head like a crusty cap. 

It can also appear on other parts of the body such as eyebrows, nose, skinfolds, groin, neck, and behind the ears.

For first-time parents cradle cap may look bothersome and concerning, but don’t worry it is not painful, harmful, or contagious.

Some of the most common symptoms of cradle cap in babies that may help you distinguish it from other common skin conditions in babies like eczema and psoriasis are.

  • Mild redness
  • Greasy yellow or brown patches and flakes
  • Inflammation
  • Thick, crusty scales

The color of the scaly patches depends on the baby’s skin tones, they may appear as white, yellow, or brown. It can also cause mild inflammation in the diaper area and armpits. 

2. What Causes Cradle Cap?

Now that you have understood what cradle cap is the next question that might pop into your mind would be what causes it. We have got your answer. 

Many new parents think that cradle cap is caused due to poor hygiene but that is not the truth. 

There is no specific cause for cradle cap, doctors believe it is caused by a combination of factors. 

  • Hormones

Before the birth of the baby, some hormones in the mother’s body pass to the baby’s body through the placenta. These hormones stay in the baby’s body for a few months. These hormones can cause the oil glands in the baby’s body to become overactive and produce more sebum which leads to cradle cap.

  • Overactive Sebaceous Glands

Sebaceous glands are a type of gland that are found in the hair follicles all over the baby’s body. These glands are responsible for producing an oily substance called sebum. The sebum keeps the skin moisturized and protects the skin from irritants outside. When these glands become overactive due to any reason, sometimes because of the mother’s hormones in the baby’s body they start producing more sebum. In conclusion, there is no specific cause for cradle cap in fact the combination of overactive sebaceous glands and Malassezia yeast are the culprits. 

  • Malassezia Yeast

Malassezia yeast is naturally present on the baby’s skin and scalp. When this yeast comes in contact with the excess sebum on the skin it produces a byproduct. These byproducts cause irritation, scaling, and flaking on the skin and scalp. 

3. How To Get Rid Of Cradle Cap?

Cradle cap is caused by something that is not in your control, which makes it difficult to prevent it. But we have listed down the best ways to get rid of it.

  • Regular Washing

Gently wash your baby’s head with mild baby cradle cap shampoo every day when the cradle cap is severe and at least 2 to 3 times a week when the scaling, flaking, and peeling associated with cradle cap becomes mild. 

Look for cradle cap shampoo that is:

  • Fragrances-free
  • Dye-free
  • Paraben-free
  • Sulfate-free
  • Gluten-free
  • Hypoallergenic

Gently massage the shampoo on the baby’s scalp with your fingertips. This helps in making the scales smooth and loosen them up. Then rinse away the shampoo and leave no residue on the scalp.

  • Brushing

Brushing is another way to get rid of the scaling and flaking associated with cradle cap. 

Use a soft-bristled brush or a cradle cap comb to gently remove the scales from the hair or scalp.

The best time to do this is after the bath as the scales loosen up a little at that time. Make sure to remove those scales that are coming off easily. And don’t forcefully remove the stubborn ones. 

As this can cause hair loss, and infection, and further worsen the condition.

  • OTC Medication

If the scaling and flaking are not getting better with the use of cradle cap shampoo. 

Then consult a pediatrician. They may prescribe over-the-counter medications such as topical steroids, cortisone, or antifungal creams. 

These OTC medications help in relieving the irritation, flaking, and scaling associated with cradle cap. 

Never use them without the consent of a doctor as these can have side effects on some babies. 

  • Don’ts Of Cradle Cap

There are certain things that you should never do to a baby experiencing cradle cap.

  • Never pick, peel, or scratch the scales. 
  • Use any medication or OTC product without the consent of the doctor.
  • Don’t leave shampoo on the baby’s scalp to loosen the scales.
  • Bathing or washing the baby’s scalp more than once daily.
  • Never leave oil on the baby’s scalp as it will make the condition worse.
  • Using any home remedies like coconut oil, apple cider vinegar, or petroleum jelly on the baby’s scalp or skin without the approval of a doctor.
  • Don’t rub the baby’s scalp or hair with a towel after the bath. 


Cradle cap is a common skin condition in babies. It appears as thick, greasy, yellow, or brown scales and flakes. 

The scaling associated with cradle cap is more common on the scalp. how ever it can also appear on the eyebrows, nose, forehead, skinfolds, diaper area, and behind the ears of the baby.

Cradle cap in babies also known as infantile seborrheic dermatitis is caused by a combination of factors that include overactive sebaceous glands, When the excess sebum produced from these glands combines with Malassezia yeast on the skin it causes flaking and scaling.

Cradle cap in babies can be easily managed by regularly washing the baby’s scalp and affected area with shampoo for cradle cap. 

If the condition does not get better or gets worse then consult a doctor who may prescribe OTC medications.