Cradle cap

What is it? What are the symptoms? What are the treatments?

What is Cradle cap?

Cradle cap is a common form of seborrhoeic dermatitis that affects the scalps of young babies – hence the name.

Although it's unsightly, it won't bother your baby at all, and is one of those conditions that's worse for parents than it is for their babies.

The condition first appears on the scalp but can spread behind the ears and can even crop up elsewhere on the body, such as behind the knees, in the groin or in the armpits.

It tends to start in the first three months of life and can last weeks or months. Your child might continue to have cradle cap until he's around two years old, although in rare cases it can go on for longer.

It's not really known what causes cradle cap but it's thought to be linked to an over-production of sebum - an oily substance that keeps the skin lubricated. Some experts believe the over-production could be a result of hormonal activity in the baby after birth.

Babies with a family history of allergic conditions such as asthma and eczema seem to be more susceptible to developing cradle cap and, later on, other forms of seborrhoeic dermatitis, like dandruff.

What are the symptoms of Cradle cap?

The symptoms are yellowish, greasy, scaly patches that can look a bit like scabs and cover the scalp like a cap. The skin around the patches often looks slightly reddened, too.

What are the treatments and remedies of Cradle cap?

There's no medical treatment for cradle cap, which will eventually clear up on its own. Don't be tempted to pick at it to try and clear it as it could become infected. Cradle cap usually runs its course and disappears in its own time once the scales have tried and start to flake away. To help you can wash your baby's hair regularly with mild, unperfumed baby shampoo and gently loosen flakes with a soft brush. You can try gently rubbing on baby oil or vegetable oil to help soften the crusts or use baby oil, vegetable oil or petroleum jelly overnight and wash with baby shampoo in the morning.

If your baby's scalp shows signs of infection – if the scales become raised or start to weep or the surrounding skin looks red or inflamed - contact your health professional, who might prescribe antibiotics. Sometimes a special shampoo for fungal infection can help, or a very mild steroid cream. Both of these would have to be prescribed by your GP.

This guide 

The information in this Bounty A-Z of Family Health is not a substitute for an examination, diagnosis or treatment by a doctor, midwife, health visitor or any other qualified health professional. If in doubt, always speak to a doctor.

Bounty will not be held responsible or liable for any injury, loss, damage, or illness, however this occurs or appears, after using the information given on this website and in particular the A-Z of Family Health.

Further help

For health advice and information 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, the NHS offers call and web services. You can also visit NHS websites for services, health information and health news at nhs.uk 

  • England – call 111 from any landline or mobile phone free of charge, or visit nhs.uk 
  • Scotland – call 08454 242424, or visit nhs24.com 
  • Wales – call 0845 4647 , or visit nhsdirect.wales.nhs.uk 
  • Northern Ireland – visit hscni.net


Cradle cap