Cradle cap is very common, it’s quite harmless and it’s fairly easy to manage.
Hi, I’m Doctor Joe.
The term cradle cap applies to a rash that generally appears on the scalp, most typically in babies between about one month, up to 4-6 months or so. It can look a bit red, it can be a little bit scaly, the scalp can be a little bit dry and sometimes flaky as well. People wonder whether it’s itchy or not. It’s fairly rare to see babies scratching their heads for other obvious reasons and it’s sort of thought that it might be a little bit itchy but it’s generally not thought to be painful in any way.
Now nobody knows the cause of cradle cap. It’s a form of what we call seborrheic dermatitis. Now in adults that may manifest as dandruff or itchy scalp. In babies it can manifest as this cradle cap.
It’s quite harmless, I think that’s an important point. It’s not infectious or contagious. So baby hasn’t caught it from anybody and they cannot pass it on to anybody. It is an inflammation of the skin on the scalp so again in that category of conditions we call dermatitis.
It generally will go by itself and usually by the six month stage, in fact often before that. If it’s not particularly serious and in most instances it’s not there’s no absolute need to do much about it treatment wise. Because treatments I suppose are not so much curative, it will go by itself, but they’re designed to ease the symptoms which as I mentioned before generally are not particularly concerning or troublesome to the baby.
Now appearances can be a worry for parents and I think that’s quite understandable. And on that basis it’s relatively easy to treat. Usually with some baby oil or some people like to use olive oil or some other hopefully non-scented type of oil. It’s pretty much rubbed into the scalp to make it a little bit less dry and a little bit less irritable.
One can very gently massage the scalp to get rid of some of the flakes and crusts if, you know, if that’s deemed necessary but the overall thrust of treatment really is just to sooth the skin a little bit and make it a little bit less dry.
Now one potential complication of cradle cap and fortunately this doesn’t happen that often is that it can get infected. I’d probably say, you know, in practice in thirty years I’ve seen that two or three times, so yes it does occur and people sort of unfortunately always tell you horror stories about what happened to somebody they know but, you know, in reality it occurs infrequently.
At absolute worst if it were to get infected it can be treated with an antibiotic and would settle quite quickly.
So cradle cap, quite common, that’s number one. Quite harmless and not contagious I think are important points to consider. Treatment is very much on its merit. You can leave it be if it’s not particularly concerning from any perspective but some simple application of massage of baby oil or similar can be very helpful just to sooth the skin whilst you are waiting for nature to take its course.