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What Is Cradle Cap In Babies Caused By?

Cradle cap, medically known as infantile seborrheic dermatitis, is a common condition affecting newborns and infants. While it’s generally harmless and tends to resolve on its own, it can cause distress to parents due to its unsightly appearance. Understanding the causes behind it is important for effective management and prevention.

Understanding Cradle Cap

What is Cradle Cap?

Cradle cap presents as crusty, yellow or brownish patches on a baby’s scalp. It can also occur on other parts of the body, such as the ears, eyebrows, eyelids, and creases of the neck. Despite its name, it isn’t caused by poor hygiene or an allergic reaction.

Symptoms of Cradle Cap

Symptoms may include greasy or oily patches of skin covered with flaky scales, mild redness, and sometimes mild itchiness. In severe cases, the scales can become thick and stick to the scalp, making them harder to remove.


Several factors contribute to the development of cradle cap in babies:

Excessive Sebum Production

One of the primary causes is believed to be excessive production of sebum, the oily substance produced by the skin’s sebaceous glands. This excess sebum can accumulate on the scalp, leading to the formation of crusty patches.

Yeast Overgrowth

Another factor is the overgrowth of a yeast called Malassezia, which is naturally present on the skin. When this yeast multiplies, it can contribute to inflammation and the development of cradle cap.

Genetic Factors

Genetic predisposition may also play a role in the development of cradle cap. Babies with a family history of the condition may be more prone to developing it themselves.

Risk Factors

While it can affect any infant, certain factors may increase the risk of developing the condition. These include:

  • A family history or other skin conditions
  • Excessive sweating
  • Seasonal changes, with cradle cap often worsening in colder weather
  • Hormonal changes, such as those that occur shortly after birth

Prevention and Management

While it usually resolves on its own within a few months, there are steps parents can take to prevent its onset or manage its symptoms:

Regular Scalp Care

Gently washing the baby’s scalp with a mild baby shampoo can help remove excess oil and scales. Avoid using harsh soaps or scrubbing the scalp vigorously, as this can worsen the condition.

Gentle Cleansing

Regularly massaging the baby’s scalp with a soft brush or washcloth can help loosen scales and improve circulation. Be gentle to avoid causing irritation or injury to the delicate skin.


Applying a gentle moisturiser or baby oil to the affected areas can help soften the scales and prevent them from becoming too dry and adherent. Be sure to choose products that are specifically formulated for infants and free of harsh chemicals.

Treatment Options

In addition to preventive measures, several treatment options are available for managing cradle cap:

Home Remedies

  • Applying a small amount of mineral oil or olive oil to the baby’s scalp and leaving it on for a few minutes before gently combing out the scales can help loosen them.
  • Using a gentle baby shampoo formulated for cradle cap can help remove scales and prevent their recurrence.

Medicated Shampoos

In more severe cases, medicated shampoos containing ingredients like ketoconazole or selenium sulfide may be recommended by a healthcare professional. These shampoos can help reduce inflammation and control yeast overgrowth.

Topical Treatments

In some cases, a paediatrician may prescribe a topical steroid cream or ointment to reduce inflammation and itching associated with cradle cap. These medications should be used under the guidance of a healthcare professional.

When to Seek Medical Advice

While it is usually harmless, parents should seek medical advice if:

  • The condition worsens or spreads to other parts of the body.
  • The baby develops signs of infection, such as redness, swelling, or warmth in the affected area.
  • The baby seems unusually irritable or uncomfortable.

Common Misconceptions

Despite it being common, there are several misconceptions about cradle cap:

  • It is not caused by poor hygiene.
  • It is not contagious and cannot be spread from one person to another.
  • It is not a sign of neglect or inadequate care on the part of the parent.

The Emotional Impact on Parents

Dealing with it can be emotionally challenging for parents, especially if they feel embarrassed or guilty about their baby’s appearance. It’s essential for parents to remember that it is a common and temporary condition that usually resolves on its own with proper care and management.

Cradle cap is a common condition affecting newborns and infants, characterised by crusty, oily patches on the scalp. While the exact cause is not fully understood, factors such as excessive sebum production, yeast overgrowth, and genetic predisposition are believed to play a role. With proper care and management, it can be effectively treated and prevented, providing relief for both babies and their parents.


Is cradle cap painful for babies?

It is usually not painful for babies, although it can sometimes cause mild itching or discomfort.

Can cradle cap lead to hair loss?

In most cases, it does not cause hair loss. However, excessive scratching or picking at the scales can damage the hair follicles and lead to temporary hair loss.

How long does cradle cap Usually last?

It usually resolves on its own within a few months, although it may persist for longer in some cases.

Can adults get cradle cap?

While it is most common in infants, it can occasionally occur in adults, particularly those with certain skin conditions or compromised immune systems.

Are there any long-term complications associated with cradle cap?

In the vast majority of cases, it resolves without any long-term complications. However, in rare cases, severe or persistent it may be associated with an increased risk of developing eczema or other skin conditions.

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