Cradle cap

Last updated:

Reviewed by:

Dr Bryony Henderson

, Lead GP at Livi

Medically reviewed

Cradle cap is a common skin condition that mainly affects babies. It usually causes yellow, scaly skin on their head, scalp and face. Find out how to recognise and treat cradle cap.

What is cradle cap?

Cradle cap is a type of dermatitis, called seborrhoeic dermatitis. It causes babies to have flakey scales of skin on their scalp, forehead, eyebrows and ears. This is an inflammatory condition that usually clears up on its own within 12 months. It’s harmless to babies and doesn’t usually cause them any discomfort.

What are the symptoms of cradle cap?

The key symptoms of cradle cap include:

  • Patchy scaling on the scalp that appears oily and yellowy brown

  • Dry, flaky white patches on the forehead, eyebrows, nappy area, ears and other skin folds

  • Mild redness

Rarely, this type of dermatitis can affect all the skin of the baby. If this happens, speak to a doctor as there may be an underlying cause that needs investigating.

How common is cradle cap?

Cradle cap is very common, affecting up to 42% of infants younger than 3 months.

It doesn’t usually affect toddlers and should clear up before your baby reaches one.

What causes cradle cap?

The exact cause of cradle cap isn’t fully understood. Experts think it may be caused by a fungus and the body’s immune response. Cradle cap isn’t infectious and can’t be caught from other babies.

How is cradle cap diagnosed?

A doctor can diagnose cradle cap by looking at the affected area and asking about how your baby is behaving. There are no special tests needed to diagnose it.

How is cradle cap treated?

Cradle cap doesn’t need treatment as it doesn’t bother the baby and will resolve on its own in the majority of cases. 

But, there are some treatments that can be given by a pharmacist or doctor that can make the cradle cap clear up sooner. 

Speak to a pharmacist who can advise you on:

  • Emollient creams to use on your baby’s scalp

  • Unperfumed baby soaps and shampoos

  • Barrier creams to use on nappy areas

Try to avoid:

  • Perfumed soaps

  • Scrubbing the area

  • Picking scales and crusts

When should I speak to a doctor about cradle cap?

If the appearance of the cradle cap is bothering you, then you can visit a pharmacist who can give you advice on treatment.

Speak to a doctor is:

  • The cradle cap is affecting your baby’s whole body

  • There are signs of infection such as fluid leaking out, bleeding or swelling

Last updated:
Reviewed by:
Dr Bryony Henderson, Lead GP at Livi