Prevent and treat Cradle cap

What Is Cradle Cap?

What the experts say

Welcoming a baby into the world is both a wonderful and confusing time. Along with all the joy and love parenthood brings, there are many concerns you’ll face once your little one makes his appearance. Your newborn can develop a number of deficiencies and conditions—from eczema to jaundice—and you may not know what they are or how to deal with them. One of those “What’s this here?” conditions is cradle cap.


But before you start to panic and rush your baby off to the emergency room, let the experts at Mustela put your mind at ease about this all-too-common skin condition. Along the way, we’ll answer questions such as:


  • What is cradle cap? Should you be worried about cradle cap? How common is cradle cap? What does cradle cap look like? Are there any tests for cradle cap?
  • What causes cradle cap? 


After we answer the most common cradle cap questions, we’ll show you six ways to prevent and treat this common skin condition.


What Is Cradle Cap?

Cradle cap is the common name for seborrheic dermatitis. We know those probably aren’t terms you come across every day, so allow us to elaborate. Here are the definitions you need to know:

  • Seborrhea (seborrheic is the adjective form) — Overactivity of the sebaceous glands characterized by excessive secretion of sebum resulting in an oily coating, crusts, or scales on the skin.
  • Sebaceous glands — Small glands in the skin that secrete a lubricating oily matter (sebum) into the hair follicles to lubricate the skin and hair.
  • Dermatitis — A condition of the skin in which it becomes red, swollen, and sore. Usually resulting from direct irritation by an external agent or an allergic reaction.

Putting all that scientific jargon to work, it tells us that cradle cap is red (or yellow), irritated, oily skin that may form discolored, scaly, crusty patches. Still not 100% clear? In the simplest sense, it’s basically infant dandruff. However, dandruff shampoo isn’t the solution to the problem.


Strangely enough, cradle cap doesn’t just appear on the head. This is the predominant location, yes, but it can also flare up on your baby’s forehead, eyebrows, ears, diaper area, and other parts of his body.


Should You Be Worried About Cradle Cap?

The simple answer is NO. It’s completely harmless, not contagious, and usually disappears by your baby’s first birthday. One misconception about cradle cap is that it’s an indication of poor hygiene. This is false.


As you’ll see in the next few sections, cradle cap is the result of your baby’s body adjusting to its new environment. It’s also important to remember that this skin condition is very common. Doctors estimate that about half of all babies will exhibit some form of cradle cap during their first year of life.


That doesn’t mean you should just disregard cradle cap completely. It can cause sensations of discomfort. In some rare instances, though, the scaly, irritated patches can get infected. This is most often due to excessive scratching from fingernails, clothing, or bedding. Again, infections are rare, but keep an eye on your baby’s cradle cap nonetheless.


Is Cradle Cap Painful Or Contagious?

Many parents are concerned that their little one is experiencing pain from cradle cap or that they will spread the condition to other children. Well, we’ve got good news! Cradle cap is neither painful nor contagious.


As we mentioned above, common cases of cradle cap are not much different from dandruff. This means that most of the time, your baby isn’t feeling any pain as a result of cradle cap. However, in severe cases, cradle cap may cause serious discomfort. If your little one’s skin seems inflamed or infected, see a pediatrician right away.


While medical professionals aren’t exactly sure what causes cradle cap (more on this later), it is definitely not contagious. There’s no need to worry about your little one spreading cradle cap to siblings, playmates, or other children they come into contact with.


What Does Cradle Cap Look Like?

Cradle cap can vary in intensity depending on your baby’s body. At the low end of the scale, it may manifest as slight redness and flaky skin (see below).



At the other end of the scale, the skin condition can result in extreme redness and a literal cap on the top of the head.




Symptoms are similar when they appear on other parts of the body.





Are There Any Tests For Cradle Cap? 

Unfortunately, no. But if you visit a doctor, she will be able to diagnose cradle cap just by looking at your baby’s skin. And that can be relieving during the high-stress days of early parenthood.





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