Seborrheic Dermatitis, often referred to as cradle cap, is a skin condition typically found in babies but which can occur in adults. While cradle cap is very common in infants and typically clears up within the first year of their lives, adult cradle cap is a chronic condition which usually requires ongoing treatment to control it.
Adult cradle cap causes symptoms such as an itchy, inflamed scalp which can be very uncomfortable. The skin appears red and becomes very flaky, and flare-ups can also occur on the eyebrows and eyelids, on the chin, around the folds of the nose and on the ears. Ultimately, the condition can afflict any area of the body where there is hair, which means the chest, arms, back and genitals can be affected in some cases.
If the skin is scratched too much, it may break and begin to bleed. There is also a risk of infection if the afflicted areas aren't kept clean or are excessively scratched, and this may need to be treated separately from the cradle cap.
Since adult cradle cap is an inflammatory condition, it tends to occur intermittently. For some the symptoms may flare-up during illness or periods of high stress.
It is thought that adult cradle cap is caused because a yeast called Malassezia, which naturally lives on the skin, triggers an inflammatory reaction. However, those with cradle cap often have very oily skin so it appears that this is an aggravating factor. The condition can run in families, which proves that there is a genetic factor at play too, but other things can also contribute to flare-ups.
Cold, dry weather often triggers an episode of adult cradle cap, which means that sufferers are more likely to experience it in the winter. Certain medicines and medical conditions may also aggravate symptoms or cause flare-ups in patients that have never experienced the condition before.
Stress also seems to be a major contributing factor to cradle cap, with many patients reporting that the condition occurs during stressful or emotionally traumatic points in their lives. In this way, it is similar to other inflammatory conditions such as psoriasis or eczema which can also be exacerbated by stress.
Cradle cap in adults is most common between the ages of 30 and 60, and tends to be more frequently found in men than women. Certain medical conditions can also increase the risk of cradle cap, such as:
Adult cradle cap is often confused with dandruff because both conditions cause itchiness and flakes on the scalp. However, dandruff doesn't cause the scalp to become inflamed and sore, and the flakes of skin are usually white. With adult cradle crap, the flakes often look yellowish in color and are very crusty. Dandruff, on the other hand, tends not to cause significant crusts and mainly leads to smaller flakes of skin being dispersed throughout the hair.
Episodes of adult cradle cap can sometimes clear up on their own, particularly if they've been caused by environmental factors such as cold weather. However, in other cases they can last for years if left untreated. Topical treatments tend to be the most effective.
These shampoos contain active ingredient salicylic acid and sometimes sulfur, both of which help to loosen the large flakes of skin on the scalp so that they can be removed easily.
Adult cradle cap causes an increased growth of cells on the scalp which is what causes the irritating scales and crusts. Coal tar and zinc shampoos can help to minimize this process and relieve the condition. Many zinc shampoos are marketed as anti-dandruff products, and are often less effective than their coal tar equivalents.
Since adult cradle cap can sometimes be caused be a reaction to the yeast Malassezia, anti-fungal shampoos may be effective in combating the condition. Typically, these shampoos contain one of two types of anti-fungal ingredients - ketoconazole or ciclopirox.
Many topical products for treating adult cradle cap can be purchased from drug stores or over the counter, but sometimes they aren't powerful enough to combat the most extreme flare-ups. In these cases, doctors may prescribe medicated shampoos which contain higher doses of active ingredients.