Cradle Cap

Cradle cap is a common condition in newborn babies that resembles dandruff, but is completely harmless. The appearance of cradle cap varies in babies. Your baby may have dry and flaky skin in the scalp that will look like dandruff. The affected area could also be oily and yellowish, or brown in color. It can be thick and there can be scaling or crusting patches on the scalp. Cradle cap can spread from the scalp to around a baby’s eyebrows, armpits, ears and other areas of the body where there are creases. When cradle cap is seen in other parts of the body apart from the scalp, it is medically known as seborrheic dermatitis.

The exact causes of cradle cap are not known, but some experts are of the opinion that the mother’s hormones in the final trimester over stimulate the baby’s oil producing glands, leading to the development of the condition in the early months after birth. Cradle cap shows up in the early months in babies and normally disappears on its own within six to twelve months. In some babies however, cradle cap could last for years.

Cradle cap can persist in to the early childhood years or may in some cases even be present in adults, and this condition is also called seborrhoeic eczema. In adults, the problem can start with a bad attack of dandruff and eventually aggravate to conditions like flaky scales on the scalp, eyebrows, folds of skin and other areas of the body. The infected skin becomes irritated, scratchy, breaks easily and bleeds when rubbed too hard. Some of the symptoms of the condition in adults are similar to skin allergies.

Symptoms of Cradle Cap

Cradle cap in babies is known as infantile seborrhoeic dermatitis. The symptoms are easily identifiable in the scalp and other parts of the body that secrete more oil.

  • The most prominent symptom at the start of the condition is the appearance of scaly, red rashes on the scalp.
  • The red scales progress to form yellowish plaque that begins to accumulate, and look like scabs fixed to the skin on the scalp.
  • The thick yellow covering may be seen in small patches or cover the entire scalp.
  • The rashes can spread to parts of the skin that secrete more oil, like the skin behind the ears, eyelids, eyebrows, under arms and groin. This is a related condition and is known as seborrheic dermatitis
  • The baby may suffer from temporary hair loss in the affected areas.
  • The thick scaly yellowish covering may turn flaky in a few weeks or months and wear away when the baby grows older and the sebaceous glands begins to function normally.
  • The condition can relapse or recur in some babies. Sometimes a possible secondary bacterial infection can lead to the skin becoming swollen and scratched.

Cradle cap in adults is a type of skin inflammation and is known as seborrhoeic dermatitis or seborrhoeic eczema. It is seen to be more common in men and occurs in young adults, mostly less than the age of forty. The areas of the body that are affected by this condition are greasy areas of the body that produces sebum.

  • Dandruff is the scaling of skin because of seborrhoeic dermatitis and is usually the first symptoms of the condition.
  • Mild patches of the scaly skin can develop on the face and the scalp may become itchy.
  • Rashes can develop with round, oval patches. You can also find yellow or brown crusts on the top of the patches that are itchy and sore.
  • The red rash can affect the face, neck, armpits and groins if the condition worsens.

Causes of Cradle Cap

  • Although the exact cause of cradle cap is not known yet, researchers opine that the condition in babies as a result of overproduction of oil from a toddler’s oil glands. This could cause dead skin and oil to accumulate and stick to the scalp.
  • In adults, the condition is called seborrheic dermatitis and the causes differ from those in babies. The condition can be hereditary, or runs in families.
  • Seborrheic dermatitis appears in infancy and disappears before puberty, which is why the condition has been linked to hormonal abnormalities.
  • The mother’s hormones remain in the baby’s blood in the initial months after birth. These hormones lead to overactive sebaceous glands in the baby’s skin, which release a greasy substance making the old cells stick to the scalp as they try to dry and fall off.
  • The condition in adults is a disorder linked to skin yeasts or fungus, also known as malassezia. An abnormal increase of the fungus in the body is said to be linked with skin problems.
  • In adults, increased trauma or emotional stress, changing seasons and increased humidity are triggers to the problem.
  • Neurologic disorders like epilepsy and Parkinson’s diseases share a link; although the mystery behind this relationship is yet to be unraveled.
  • Immune deficiency diseases like HIV or AIDs can cause seborrheic dermatitis in young adults.

Remedies for Cradle Cap

Cradle cap is harmless so the best remedy is to wait it out to cure by itself. Certain home remedies for cradle cap can speed up the process, but it will take time for results to show. Here are a few home remedies that are commonly used by individuals who suffer from the condition, but these should not be used without consulting a physician. Home remedies cannot be recommended as a treatment plan and you should always consult a physician before trying out any home cures, especially on children.

  • You can shampoo your child’s hair repeatedly for the scales to go away. However, very frequent washes can get the oil glands working more and aggravate the situation. Shampooing three times a week works fine.
  • Baking soda is regarded as one of the most effective natural cradle cap remedies. A diluted baking soda solution can be a cure – a teaspoon of baking soda in half a cup water, scrubbed in the affected areas will reduce flaking and help scales to wear away.
  • You could also apply a baking soda paste on the affected areas for ten minutes before washing away with a mild shampoo. This will soften the scales and you can remove them with soft tooth brushes or bristle brushes.
  • Some recommend applying a little vegetable oil like olive oil and coconut oil on the scalp as a cradle cap cure; leave it in for about fifteen minutes and then wash it off. The oil softens the scales and helps it to come out easily while washing.
  • Applying lavender oil or cortisone creams to the affected area will reduce the inflammation of the baby’s scalp.
  • Mild steroids or anti fungal creams are also good for the treatment of cradle cap.
  • For older children, you can use over the counter dandruff and seborrhea shampoo to wash the region.
  • For facial cradle cap, use a diluted baby shampoo to clean the area. Dilute 2-3 drops of the shampoo in a cup of warm water to cleanse the area.
  • Diet for Cradle Cap

    Cradle cap is not a deficiency disease and hence there is no particular diet that can cure cradle cap. However, certain findings are indicative of the healing qualities in foods rich in biotin, a vitamin b complex.

    Biotin, one of the least known vitamin B complexes, is said to be great for curing overall skin, hair and nail problems. The vitamin is found in abundance in food sources like egg yolks, poultry, seeds and nuts. Biotin supports the health of skin through proper fat production, efficient use of sugar and a proper energy supply to nerve cells.

    In addition to biotin, you can look at diet or supplements with fish oil, zinc, selenium and vitamin b-complex for adults suffering from the disease. Folic acids and vitamin B12 are said to be able to address the problems of cradle cap in adults.

    For mothers who are breastfeeding and suffering from the condition, it is best to stick to a diet that is rich in proteins, iron and vitamins. Eggs, different varieties of fish, seeds, beans and pulses are good sources of protein. Apart from the natural foods, cultured foods like yoghurt should be added to your diet to improve digestion.

    Suggestions for Cradle Cap

    Most mothers prefer using natural treatments to cure their baby’s cradle cap problems. It is suggested that you apply some warm natural oil like oil of olive, almond, avocado and apricot to the baby’s scalp and leave it overnight. You can use a soft brush to brush the baby’s scalp the next day and use a mild shampoo to take of the excess oil. You can also dilute the oil by putting mineral oil in bath water and soaking the area for ten minutes, after which you can gently rub of the flakes with a baby wash cloth and baby shampoo.


    1. David A Fenton, Hair and scalp disorders, Medicine, Volume 32, Issue 12, 1 December 2004, Pages 26-31, ISSN 1357-3039, 10.1383/medc.
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