What exactly is cradle cap, and what should you do about it?

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What should you be doing about cradle cap?
What should you be doing about cradle cap?

Cradle cap, as the name implies, happens to young babies (although in severe cases it may continue up to the age of three) and starts on the head.

When a baby’s head sweats, her skin produces more sebum (or oil) from the sebaceous glands. An infection of the skin may result, which is a cradle cap.

Medically speaking, cradle cap is called seborrhoeic dermatitis. If your baby has cradle cap, you’ll first notice dandruff-like flakes on your baby’s head.

These are shed skin cells and are quite normal.

Seeing this may make you worry that you’re not washing your baby’s hair properly and so you may rub the scalp vigorously with the next hair wash but by doing this, you’re only making the problem worse.

Flaking out

Cradle cap is not caused by neglect or poor hygiene. If you notice dry patches on your baby’s scalp, use a little bit of baby oil to soften it overnight, brush well with a soft-bristled baby brush and wash your baby’s hair the next day with mild baby shampoo.

If the patches become thick and yellow and spread over the scalp, it may need more aggressive treatment. It may also take 10 or more days to clear.

Speak to your pharmacist about using a cradle cap shampoo or ask your clinic nurse or doctor.

When cradle cap is severe, this seborrhoeic rash may spread to the face, neck and even the nappy area. If this happens, you should see a doctor who will prescribe a specific cream.

This outbreak needs to be differentiated from seborrhoeic eczema, which is identified by patches of red, inflamed skin, usually in areas where there are creases such as elbows and knees, and needs specific treatment.

Dos and don’ts

Put a beanie or hat on your baby’s head only when you go out and take it off indoors so that her scalp can 'breathe'.

Make sure you rinse the shampoo off well. 

Brush your baby’s hair with a soft-bristled brush to remove dead skin flakes.

When patches of cradle cap are lifting, it’s tempting to pick them off. But don’t!

Your nails could break your baby’s skin and microscopic dirt on your fingertips can lead to a skin infection. Let the flakes fall off by themselves.

Always use baby products on your baby’s skin.

If your baby’s skin is very sensitive or your baby is a newborn, use hypoallergenic 100% soap-free and dye-free products (speak to your pharmacist for a recommendation).

Never use anti-dandruff shampoo on your baby.

Don’t wash your baby’s hair every day.

Don’t use soap on your baby’s head – use specially formulated baby shampoo.

Don’t massage the scalp vigorously – simply lather the shampoo gently.

Don’t be hesitant to gently wash the hair over your baby’s fontanelle.

Treating cradle cap

Soften patches of dry scalp with baby oil before washing.

Remove as much of the cradle cap as possible with a baby brush by gently brushing the hair before washing.

If the cradle cap warrants specific cream, follow the instructions on the container of cream or from your doctor very carefully.

If the doctor has prescribed cradle cap shampoo, read the instructions first.

If your baby reacts to the chemicals in the shampoo, stop using it and contact your doctor.

Don’t self-prescribe treatment.

Don’t resort to 'Granny’s remedies' without speaking to a clinic nurse or doctor first.

Lastly, be patient. Cradle cap does not go away overnight.


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