How To Prevent Cradle Cap

Understanding cradle cap

What is cradle cap?

Cradle cap is a harmless condition in the skin of the head, common in babies,1 also referred to as infant seborrheic dermatitis.2

It can look like large patches of white or yellow, or pink and white scaly skin on the scalp. The Mayo Clinic on the resources below contains photos for reference of how this looks on different skin colours as it can vary. 

The crusts can be greasy and can flake off with skin underneath looking red.1

Is it a common condition? 

Cradle cap is a common condition that does not reflect a lack of hygiene, and usually clears on its own within 6 to 12 months1

What are the symptoms?

It mainly affects the head and face and can sometimes, rarely, appear in other places like the nappy area1

What are the causes?

Researchers do not know the exact cause of this skin condition, but it is not contagious, nor caused by poor hygiene3

What are the complications?

The most likely complication is a bacterial infection, and this can occur due to repeated scratching if irritated or picking the crusts4

Can cradle cap be prevented? 

Ways to prevent cradle cap

(Medications, natural remedies)

Some things that can help you control and manage cradle cap are:

  1. Gently rubbing the baby's scalp with your finger or a washcloth to loosen the scales, remembering not to scratch
  2. Once the scales are gone, wash your baby's hair every two to three days with a mild shampoo to prevent scale buildup

Treating cradle cap

Cradle cap usually does not require medical treatment2 and will go away on its own over time. Treatment is usually effective in helping symptoms and it may include:

  1. special shampoo prescribed by healthcare provider
  2. corticosteroid cream or lotion for a short period of time if the problem is really bad or persistent4

The NHS1 recommends the following:

  • Lightly massaging a moisturiser onto your baby’s scalp to help loosen the scale
  • Gently brushing the baby’s scalp with a soft brush and then washing it with baby shampoo

Also, there are some practices that you should not do, which are the following:

  • Do not use olive oil, or any other oil used for cooking
  • Do not use peanut oil asit can cause allergies
  • Do not use soap or shampoos for adults
  • Do not pick crusts

When to seek a medical specialist

You can first seek help from a pharmacist and ask for:

  • Emollient or moisturiser to use on your baby’s scalp
  • Unperfumed baby shampoos
  • Creams to use on baby’s nappy area

Moreover, you can seek medical help from a GP if:

  • Baby cradle cap does not get better after a few weeks of treatment
  • If the cradle cap is all over the baby’s body
  • There is liquid or blood coming out from the crusts
  • The affected areais swollen

Bleeding, leaking and swelling could be signs of an infection, eczema or scabies and therefore you should always seek medical help if this occurs to your baby1

Make sure that the product your doctor prescribes does not get into your baby’s eyes, since this can cause irritation2

The Mayo Clinic summaries some details and information to prepare for your GP appointment :

  • How long has your baby had cradle cap
  • What you have done to treat it
  • How often you use shampoo on your baby's hair
  • What products you have tried2


Cradle cap is a condition that can occur to babies, particularly in the scalp area. It does represent lack of hygiene, and it usually resolves on its own within 6 to 12 months. Nonetheless, because it can be itchy or uncomfortable to have the crusts, you can use certain moisturiser creams and baby shampoos that can help minimise them upon consultation with a healthcare specialist. It is important to not pick or forcefully remove the crusts as this can be an entry way for infectious agents, such as bacteria, which will require further treatment and develop into a more serious condition.


  1. NHS. Cradle cap. [Internet]. United Kingdom: © Crown copyright; [updated 21 April 2022; cited November 2202]. Available from:
  2. Mayo Clinic. Cradle cap. [Internet] United States: © Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research (MFMER); [updated 08 November, 2022; cited November 2022]. Available from:
  3. John Hopkins Medicine. Seborrheic Dermatitis (Cradle Cap). United States: ©The Johns Hopkins University, The Johns Hopkins Hospital, and Johns Hopkins Health System. [cited November 2022]. Available from:
  4. Nobles T, Harberger S, Krishnamurthy K. Cradle Cap. [Updated 2022 Aug 21]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2022 Jan-. Available from:
This content is purely informational and isn’t medical guidance. It shouldn’t replace professional medical counsel. Always consult your physician regarding treatment risks and benefits. See our editorial standards for more details.

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Aryana Zardkoohi

Master's degree, Tropical disease biology, Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine

Aryana completed a degree in microbiology and clinical chemistry and an MSc in Molecular Biology of Parasites and Vectors. She has several years of experience working as clinical microbiologist at hospitals, and in public health research of tropical diseases.
She is currently undertaking a PhD studying the effects of plant carbohydrates on human gut health.

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