My baby looks like he has dandruff. Is it cradle cap?

Cradle cap is a common skin condition among newborns. Babies with cradle cap will have yellow scales and crusts that look like dandruff on the scalp. The scales can be greasy or dry. Cradle cap can begin in the first two to six weeks of life and is not usually seen past six months of age. It is not painful or itchy, and it is probably caused by hormones the baby received from mom at the end of pregnancy, which overstimulated the baby’s oil producing seborrheic glands. Cradle cap is not contagious and does not recur. Along with cradle cap, there can be redness behind the ears, in body creases (armpit, groin and neck) and in the diaper area. If the areas are raw and painful, contact your pediatrician for further guidance about home care.

Cradle cap is harmless and usually clears within two weeks of treatment, but can last for months without treatment. Unless the cradle cap is bothersome to you, it is perfectly okay to leave it alone. If you choose to treat it, buy an anti-dandruff shampoo (no prescription needed) at the drugstore and wash hair twice a week. Daily use of anti-dandruff shampoo is not approved for children under 2 years of age, but twice a week is fine, even for infants. While the hair is lathered, massage the scalp with a soft brush or a rough washcloth for five minutes (don't worry about hurting the soft spot).

If the scalp has thick crusts or scales, put some baby oil or olive oil on the scalp one hour before shampooing to soften the crusts. Wash all the oil off, however, or it may worsen the cradle cap. If the rash on the scalp is red and irritated, apply 1 percent hydrocortisone cream three times a day for seven days. Once the cradle cap has cleared up, use a regular baby shampoo twice a week. 

Cradle cap isn’t pretty, but it is harmless. It’s not caused by poor hygiene or allergies, and probably doesn’t bother your baby at all. Call your baby’s doctor if the rash worsens or lasts for more than two weeks with treatment.


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