Cradle cap

This is a very common skin rash in babies which develops just after the baby is born and persists until the child is two years old. In some cases it can persist into childhood. The medical term for this condition is ‘infantile seborrhoeic dermatitis’. Cradle cap is actually a form of seborrhoeic dermatitis which affects adults, particularly those aged between 18 and 40. It tends to affect men more than women. So, this skin inflammation affects babies as well as adults. The main difference between cradle cap and seborrhoeic dermatitis is that cradle cap is usually confined to the scalp, face and possibly the folds of skin in the groin. Seborrhoeic dermatitis affects the scalp and face but then spreads to other parts of the body, e.g. chest.

Symptoms of cradle cap

These include greasy white or yellow patches of flaky skin or scabs on the surface of the baby’s scalp. These scaly patches are often red and inflamed and itchy as well.

These symptoms range from mild through to severe. A mild form of cradle cap consists of a few patches of flaky skin whereas a severe form can be quite unpleasant looking. This takes the form of thick, crusty sores which cover the scalp.

Cradle cap usually covers the scalp only but it can also develop behind the ears and in some cases on the eyebrows/eyelids.

Causes of cradle cap

It is difficult to pinpoint an exact cause. Cradle cap can be caused by any one of the following which include:

  • Genetic tendency: cradle cap can run in families
  • An over-production of oil from sebaceous glands in the scalp.
  • Low levels of biotin (part of the Vitamin B group)
  • Low levels of essential fatty acids (omega 3’s)

Cradle cap is NOT caused by insufficient washing, allergy or an infection.

Treatment of cradle cap

Mild cases of cradle cap usually clear up by themselves but moderate or severe forms will require treatment.

Treatment options include:

  • Home based remedies
  • Over the counter product
  • Prescription medicine

Home based remedies are forms of treatment which you can undertake to treat your baby’s cradle cap. These include massaging a little baby oil into your baby’s scalp and then leaving this on overnight to soften the flaky skin. These flakes can be brushed away the next day.

Be careful not to brush too firmly as this may remove hair. Also avoid rubbing or picking the scabs as these can bleed or lead to an infection.

Alternatives to baby oil include olive oil, petroleum jelly (Vaseline) and herbal moisturisers. An over the counter product refers to shampoo: there are several forms of shampoo available which include baby shampoo, anti-dandruff shampoo and medicated shampoo. But there have been issues raised about the safety of certain types of shampoo in regard to babies. It is argued that many of these shampoos have a tendency to irritate the skin and eyes which is not good news for your baby. The best way of approaching this is to choose a special baby shampoo which is likely to be mild and not cause any adverse effects. Ask your pharmacist for advice.

If your baby’s cradle cap is moderate or severe then you will need a stronger shampoo or a prescription medicine. These will take the form of an anti-fungal shampoo which contains ‘ketoconozole’ (anti-fungal agent), steroid cream or antibiotics.

These are available on prescription from your GP.

Complications of cradle cap

Most cases of cradle cap clear up without any further problems and usually once the child reaches two years of age. But there is a risk of it re-occurring, even after treatment so it is a good idea to use either a baby shampoo or a cradle cap shampoo on a regular basis.

It has been found that babies who have cradle cap are often prone to developing eczema in adult life.

This is a short overview about cradle cap but if you want to know then visit our complete guide to cradle cap. This guide contains all the information you need about cradle cap, the causes, symptoms and treatment - in more detail than presented here.

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