Cradle cap is a crusting and scaling rash that is found on the scalps of many otherwise healthy infants. To new parents, this crusting skin on their new baby’s scalp is unsightly and concerning. After a quick trip to the pediatrician, however, parents are assured that this condition is very normal in newborns.

Cradle cap happens in newborns when the sebaceous glands (those beneath the skin that produce oils to coat the hair) are hyperactivated because of the hormones from mom that cross the placenta just before birth. Another name for the cradle cap is seborrhea of the scalp.

Fortunately, this condition is self-limiting and very treatable with over the counter remedies. Unfortunately for new parents the condition doesn’t always clear immediately and they may have to contend with the stares of others who don’t recognize the condition.

As new skin cells are being produced the old dry skin doesn’t fall off as quickly as new cells are made. In adults, we don’t recognize the process. In infants who suffer from cradle cap, new cells are produced quickly which contributes to the formation of a layer of crusty extra skin.

Infants who are from 2 months to 10 months have an increased incidence of cradle cap and it is quite uncommon after the age of 1. The red patchy scales on the scalp appear cracked, greasy and even weeping. This same type of rash can be prominent around the ears and the eyebrows. When it appears elsewhere on the body it is called seborrheic dermatitis rather than cradle cap.

True cradle cap usually only lasts until the baby is between 8 and 12 months old. The doctor will diagnose the problem through a physical examination – there are no tests necessary. Some parents will choose to treat the problem if it bothers them while others aren’t bothered by the problem and don’t treat. Sometimes the skin condition will itch the baby and some minor treatment will be helpful.

The gentlest treatment is to rub a small amount of virgin olive oil onto the baby’s scalp, wait several minutes for the oil to soften the scales and then, using a washcloth, brush them away. Once that is completed wash the baby’s head with mild baby shampoo. Frequent shampooing will help to keep the condition under control.

After consulting with your doctor you may choose to use special shampoo if the baby is over 6 months old. These shampoos contain salicylic acid, tar, or selenium. These shampoos can be irritating to the baby’s eyes so be especially careful not to allow the shampoo, suds, or water to enter their eyes. If the problem is very persistent or inflamed the doctor may recommend the use of mild cortisone cream.

These treatments may be necessary for several months, off and on, until the condition clears completely. If you find that the condition doesn’t show rapid improvement with each treatment, with periods of a decreased problem between, notify your doctor.

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