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Pediatric Seborrheic Dermatitis (Cradle Cap)
Key Points About Seborrheic Dermatitis (Cradle Cap)
- Cradle cap is scaly patches on a baby’s scalp.
- Babies between ages 3 weeks and 12 months are at greater risk of getting cradle cap.
- The problem is not serious and will go away over time.
- Most cases of cradle cap can be treated at home by using a soft-bristled brush, frequent shampooing and applying baby oil.
Cradle cap (infant seborrheic dermatitis) is scaly patches on a baby's scalp. Cradle cap isn’t serious, but it can cause thick crusting and white or yellow scales. Some babies can also have seborrheic dermatitis in the diaper area or on the face, neck and trunk. Cradle cap usually clears up within the first year.
Researchers don't know the exact cause of this skin condition. It is not contagious. It is not an infection or allergy. It is not caused by poor hygiene.
Babies between the ages of 3 weeks and 12 months are at greater risk of getting cradle cap.
Symptoms can occur a bit differently in each child. They can include dry or greasy scales on the scalp. The scalp may also appear red. It usually does not itch or cause the baby discomfort.
Cradle cap is usually diagnosed based on a physical exam of your child. The rash involved with cradle cap is unique. It can usually be diagnosed by a physical exam.
Treatment will depend on your child’s symptoms, age and general health. It will also depend on how severe the condition is.
The problem will go away on its own over time. But most parents prefer treatment because it usually helps reduce or get rid of the problem. Treatment may also decrease your level of anxiety as a parent. Even with treatment, the problem may come back during the baby’s first year of life. Treatment is usually effective in helping symptoms. It may include:
- Rubbing the scalp with baby oil or petroleum jelly to soften crusts before washing
- Special shampoo, as prescribed by your child’s health care provider
- Corticosteroid cream or lotion for a short period of time if the problem is really bad or persistent
Cradle cap is common in young babies and does not point to poor hygiene or lack of care. The following may help prevent the buildup of scales on the scalp:
- Use a soft bristled brush to gently remove the scales from the scalp.
- Shampoo baby’s hair often.
- Apply baby oil to the scalp after shampooing.
Most cases of cradle cap can be treated at home. If the problem doesn’t get better, you may ask your health care provider to prescribe an appropriate shampoo or cream. If the problem still does not get better with the prescribed medicine, tell your child's health care provider.
The Division of Dermatology at Children's National Hospital continues to expand services as more families seek our expertise in the diagnosis and treatment of disorders of the skin, hair and nails.
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