Cradle Cap (Infantile Seborrheic Dermatitis)
Rough, scaly patches of skin on their newborn's scalp can be alarming to new parents, but usually are nothing to worry about. Most likely, they're due to a harmless condition many babies develop called cradle cap.
About Cradle Cap
Cradle cap is the common term for seborrheic dermatitis, or seborrhea, which is also called dandruff in older kids and adults.
It's a relatively common condition in newborns and children as old as 3 and causes thick white or yellow scales on the scalp. Some kids just get scales in a small patch; others have scales all over their heads. Sometimes, cradle cap can even occur on the eyebrows, eyelids, ears, crease of the nose, back of the neck, diaper area, or armpits. In rare cases, such as in babies who have eczema or dry skin, cradle cap can cause cracked skin that itches and oozes a small amount of clear yellow drainage.
Cradle cap is not contagious and it isn't an indication of poor hygiene. Most of the time, it just goes away on its own. In severe or persistent cases, though, a doctor may recommend a medicated shampoo or lotion. Washing your baby's scalp daily with mild shampoo can also help to loosen and remove the scales caused by cradle cap.
Though it might look to be uncomfortable or irritating to the skin, cradle cap generally doesn't bother kids.
The exact cause of cradle cap isn't known, although some researchers believe it can be caused by an overproduction of skin oil (sebum) in the oil glands and hair follicles. A type of yeast (fungus) called malassezia can grow in the sebum along with bacteria, and this may be another factor in the development of cradle cap.
Seborrhea often runs in families, meaning the conditions that lead to cradle cap can be passed from mother to baby before birth. Certain factors — such as weather extremes, oily skin, infrequent skin cleaning, lotions that contain alcohol, obesity, and other skin disorders — can increase a child's risk of developing cradle cap.
Cradle cap looks different on every baby. It can be grouped together in bunches, or crops, or it can be spread far apart on the body. Affected areas will usually have one or more of these symptoms:
- thick plaques or crusts (especially on the scalp, but sometimes on the ears, eyelids, eyebrows, nose, neck, groin, or armpits)
- greasy or oily patches of skin, often covered with white or yellow scales
- skin flakes (dandruff)
Rarely, babies with cradle cap will have skin that is mildly red or itchy, and some might even experience hair loss, though the hair usually grows back after the cradle cap is gone.
Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.
© 1995-2009 The Nemours Foundation. All rights reserved.
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