As a new mother, it can be quite upsetting to find thick patchy, scaly, or crusty skin covering your baby's scalp. But there's no need to be alarmed. These are signs of a harmless skin condition called cradle cap (or seborrheic dermatitis affecting the scalp), which usually affects newborns at around 3 to 4 weeks after birth.

Other symptoms include greasy skin, dandruff, and redness. Cradle cap might affect your baby's ears, eyelids, nose, and forehead. Patches of scales can also appear in the diaper area and folds of the skin.

The cause of cradle cap is not really known, but it may have something to do with hormones that cause the oil glands and hair follicles to produce oil. Other theories suggest it may be caused by a fungus. Whatever the cause, cradle cap resolves on its own, usually in a few weeks to months, and it doesn't cause your baby any discomfort.

Here are tips for treating your baby's cradle cap.

  • Use a mild, non-medicated baby shampoo to wash your baby's hair daily.
  • With shampoo in your baby's hair, you can gently loosen the scales with a soft baby toothbrush or hairbrush. Rinse the scales and shampoo away with water.
  • If the scales are very thick, you can try to soften the scales by rubbing mineral oil or petroleum jelly onto the scalp before shampooing.

Washing your baby's scalp daily should get rid of cradle cap and help prevent it from coming back. If it does not go away, gets worse, or spreads to other areas of the body, talk to your doctor or pharmacist about an appropriate mild dandruff shampoo for your baby.

Lisa Tourountzas
with updates by the MediResource Clinical Team