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Cradle cap, also known as infantile or neonatal seborrhoeic dermatitis, is a yellow, crusted skin rash situated on a babies scalp. The cause of cradle cap is not clear but it is thought to be related to over active sebum glands, with the excess sebum causing old skin cells to stick to the scalp, instead of drying up and falling off as they would normally do. It is not contagious and is not due an allergy or lack of cleanliness.
While cradle cap typically occurs on a baby’s scalp, it can also occur on the face, ears (especially in the folds) and neck, or at the back of the knees and armpits. Cradle cap usually appears in babies in the first two months and tends to clear up by itself after a few weeks or months, although it can last much longer. Our daughter still had traces of cradle cap along her hair-line and slightly crusty ears on her third birthday.
Gently wash your baby’s scalp with a mild baby shampoo- this will prevent a build-up of skin and flakes. At night, massage the baby’s scalp with natural oils such as coconut or almond oil (using olive oil is no longer recommended as it is thought to thin the skin. This greatly helps towards softening and even loosening the skin scales. Start washing your child’s hair more frequently – up to once per day. Brushing the hair will also loosen any extra skin. Do not pick the skin flakes as this could cause scarring and discomfort.
If mild shampoos are not effective then switch to a stronger shampoo developed especially for cradle cap. These will not harm your baby’s skin and they are available at most pharmacies. It is vital that you check the product for any ingredients that your baby may be allergic to. Also, do not get the shampoo into the baby’s eyes and always seek advice from your pharmacist.
There are a number of home remedies if you are looking for a non-chemical treatment. A Swedish study found good results from massaging the scalp with small amounts starflower (borage) oil twice a day. Other home remedies include aloe vera, honey, tea tree oil, coconut oil and breast milk. All of these can be used on the baby’s head in moderation although there have been no formal studies on their effectiveness.
There is no need to visit a doctor provided that it is not itchy and it does not cause your baby any pain. If scaly skin on your baby’s head or face appears to itchy or bothering them, it is worth checking that it is not baby eczema with your doctor as the two conditions can look similar. Also, if your baby is suffering from other symptoms as well as cradle cap, such as diarrhoea or constant colds, then this could be linked to a low immune system. In this case a doctor should be consulted. The doctor may prescribe an antifungal soap such as ketoconazole which can work with just one application.