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What is Cradle Cap?

Dr Preeya avatar By Dr Preeya Alexander

Dr Preeya avatar Dr Preeya Alexander

Dr Preeya Alexander is a practising GP based in Melbourne, and holds a Bachelor of Medicine & Bachelor of Surgery from Adelaide University. She is a member of FRACGP and works as a medical educator with Eastern Victoria GP Training where she assists in the training of GPs.Dr Preeya has featured as an expert on Sunrise, The Good TV/Health Minute and The Good Life on Talking Lifestyle (radio). She is a regular contributor to online publications such as The Grace Tales, Mamamia and other lifestyle websites, combining her passion for medicine and her role as an educator to become a shining example of the qualified ‘expert influencer’. She has also authored the children's book "Rainbow Plate" that encourages healthy eating in young children. Dr Preeya specialises in preventative health, general medicine, sexual health, mental health, women’s medicine and shares her expertise and passion on her blog, The Wholesome Doctor.

As a GP I see lots of children and cradle cap has to be one of the most commonly discussed skin issues in my consulting room. So what is cradle cap and how common is it?

What is Cradle Cap?

As a GP who has treated it (and a mother who has lived it!) here are some key points that may help parents:

  • Cradle cap is common! Yes, the first point is that simple – you are not alone in this if your child has a flaky scalp.
  • Whilst we are here – it’s worth busting the myth that cradle cap is due to dirty skin – because it isn’t.
  • Cradle cap is a form of seborrheic dermatitis – a condition that adults can suffer from as well. In cradle cap, you will commonly see greasy yellow plaques on the scalp (and sometimes the eyebrow area too).
  • There are some theories as to why cradle cap occurs – one is that the sebaceous glands in the skin (these glands produce sebum – the oily stuff that coats our skin) are overactive due to some of mum’s hormones still circulating in the infant’s system.
  • It is worth knowing the condition is benign and usually self-limiting – in most cases cradle cap will get better all on its own without any intervention with good old-fashioned time (a GP’s best friend!).
  • Even the worst cradle cap in the world is not dangerous despite what it may look like – I find as a GP I’m often just providing reassurance when it comes to this skin condition.
  • Cradle cap usually doesn’t irritate the child (it isn’t itchy or painful) – if it is bothering the infant then it’s worth seeking a review to check it isn’t a different skin condition (like eczema for instance).
  • The condition commonly occurs in the first six weeks of life and tends to dissipate by three months of age.
  • Not EVERY single skin condition on the scalp is cradle cap – conditions such as eczema and psoriasis can also occur in this area. If you are ever concerned about a rash or worried it’s not improving –seek a review with your doctor lest it is something else that needs intervention.
  • Even without intervention- cradle cap will normally settle on its own over the course of weeks or months.
  • If you want to intervene there are simple measures that can help with cradle cap – the commonest intervention is to “soak the crusts” and brush them off. Applying an emollient (like paraffin) to the crusts before bed (allowing them to soak overnight) and gently brushing them off in the morning is what most of my patients do with great success.
  • In more severe cases we consider using a mild anti-dandruff shampoo for a short period of time (these products can be drying and irritating for baby skin so be guided by your doctor).

Our son had cradle cap at around two months of age and we decided to gently treat it for cosmetic reasons (you’re not vain for wanting to treat it by the way – I often have to tell patients it’s OK to want to treat it even though it will get better all on its own in most cases). We used paraffin ointment on the scalp overnight (yes, it can be messy with infants who have hair – and it was in our case) and then gently brushed the crusts off in the morning with a soft brush. It worked a treat (and made the scalp look a bit tidier) until the condition resolved itself over the course of a few weeks.

These are just some key practical tips for a very common skin condition – good luck with the cradle cap everyone!

Dr Preeya avatar

About Dr Preeya

Dr Preeya Alexander is a practising GP based in Melbourne, and holds a Bachelor of Medicine & Bachelor of Surgery from Adelaide University. She is a member of FRACGP and works as a medical educator with Eastern Victoria GP Training where she assists in the training of GPs.Dr Preeya has featured as an expert on Sunrise, The Good TV/Health Minute and The Good Life on Talking Lifestyle (radio). She is a regular contributor to online publications such as The Grace Tales, Mamamia and other lifestyle websites, combining her passion for medicine and her role as an educator to become a shining example of the qualified ‘expert influencer’. She has also authored the children's book "Rainbow Plate" that encourages healthy eating in young children. Dr Preeya specialises in preventative health, general medicine, sexual health, mental health, women’s medicine and shares her expertise and passion on her blog, The Wholesome Doctor.

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