Also referred to as infantile seborrheic dermatitis, cradle cap is a condition which affects the scalp of newborn babies. Normally associated with dry or scaly skin, cradle cap may form in patches or may affect the entire scalp. Although similar symptoms can affect other parts of the baby’s body, these are usually referred to as seborrheic eczema, as opposed to cradle cap.
When cradle cap occurs, the child’s scalp may appear to be dry and patches of skin may be scaly. In many cases, cradle cap causes some or all of the following symptoms:
Cradle cap is extremely common in children under the age of eight months and typically begins within the first two months of a child’s life. Although older children can develop cradle cap, it is most common in newborns and young babies.
When cradle cap first develops, parents may worry that the baby is experiencing pain or discomfort. Whilst the child’s scalp may appear red, dry and flaky, pain is not usually associated with cradle cap. In fact, cradle cap does not usually cause any itching or discomfort. Providing no complications arise as a result of cradle cap, the infant should not be in pain because of the condition.
If cradle cap is present, babies may have an increased risk of developing a secondary infection. If so, this can usually be treated with anti-fungal baby shampoo or alternative anti-fungal medications.
Although the cause of cradle cap has not been confirmed, it is believed that residual hormones remain in the baby’s body and cause cradle cap to occur. These excess hormones cause the sebaceous glands to release oil and this excess oil prevents the skin from shedding normally. Instead, skin sticks to the baby’s scalp, giving the area a dry and scaly appearance.
Whilst hormones from pregnancy are believed to be the main cause of cradle cap, other factors may also have an impact on the development of the condition. These can include:
If an infant has allergies to a specific substance, they may have a greater risk of developing cradle cap. Similarly, if other family members have allergies or skin sensitivities, the baby may be more likely to experience cradle cap.
In addition to this, the child’s skin condition can have a bearing on whether or not cradle cap will be present. Infants with other skin conditions, such as eczema, may be more prone to cradle cap.
It is also possible that yeast contained in the child’s sebum could cause cradle cap. When this yeast reaches the outer layers of the skin, it may cause irritation, which could result in cradle cap. Whilst this may be a cause of cradle cap, it remains unconfirmed.
Although cradle cap does not usually cause pain or discomfort, it can be unsightly and many parents are keen to treat the condition. Whilst intensive treatment is not usually necessary, there are various ways in which cradle cap can be treated. These include:
Washing that baby’s scalp with baby shampoo can help to remove the dry skin associated with cradle cap. When the flaky and scaly skin is washed away with the shampoo, the scalp will be free of excess skin. However, symptoms of cradle cap may return until the condition clears up altogether.
If symptoms persist, a medicated baby shampoo can be used. As these shampoos contain stronger ingredients, they can be more effective in treating cradle cap and minimizing the symptoms of the condition.
When an infant is diagnosed with eczema, however, shampoos should not generally be used. Instead, the child’s physician will recommend an appropriate emollient for use on their scalp.
Alternatively, parents and caregivers may choose to massage oil into the child’s scalp. As well as softening the scaly patches of skin on the scalp, massaging oil into the affected area may make it easier to remove dry skin from the scalp. It is important that only certain oils are used on a baby’s skin, however, so it’s vital to obtain medical advice before applying anything to the infant’s skin. Olive oil, for example, can damage the outer layers of a baby’s skin and should not be used.
In order to remove as much of the flaky skin as possible, parents and caregivers can brush the child’s scalp. However, a soft baby’s brush should be used to carry out this task and the scalp should not be brushed excessively.
Although many parents are keen to treat cradle cap, it’s essential that treatment efforts do not cause more damage to the skin. If dry skin on the scalp is picked or removed too harshly, it may break the skin. When the skin is broken or cracked, it can increase the risk of a subsequent infection occurring.
Furthermore, cradle cap may not require treatment at all. As cradle cap is usually caused by the residual hormones left over from the pregnancy, the condition usually clears up on its own within a matter of weeks or months. As the baby’s body develops, these residual hormones will no longer be present and cradle cap will, therefore, resolve on its own.
Due to this, parents and caregivers should obtain medical advice before beginning any treatments.
Preventing cradle cap can be difficult in many cases, particularly if the baby is affected by naturally occurring hormones. Whilst it may not always be possible to prevent newborn babies from developing the condition, washing the scalp regularly and gently brushing the child’s scalp can help to prevent cradle cap.
If older children are prone to cradle cap, it may be easier to prevent the condition. Children over the age of twelve months are usually able to withstand slightly stronger treatments and medicated shampoos may be more suitable for children of this age.
When older children are affected by cradle cap, it may be because they have other skin conditions, such as dermatitis. In such cases, specific medications aimed at treating eczema can also be effective in treating cradle cap. Some emollients and oils are designed for use on the scalp, for example, and can be used as a topical solution. As well as moisturizing dry skin, these skin products can help to prevent cradle cap from forming and will keep the scalp in good condition.
As with all skin conditions, parents and caregivers should obtain medical advice before beginning any type of preventative measures. Whilst it may be possible to prevent or treat cradle cap, it is vital that a physician confirms the diagnosis. Following this, parents and caregivers can obtain advice regarding the prevention of cradle cap and, where necessary, the appropriate form of treatment for the child.