What is cradle cap (infant seborrheic dermatitis)?

Cradle cap (infant seborrheic dermatitis, or ISD) is a harmless skin condition that appears as yellow scaly patches surrounded by a red rash on the scalp of babies. About 7 out of 10 babies develop cradle cap between two and six weeks of birth.

Your baby is not in any danger. Cradle cap has no negative effects on your baby’s general health and doesn’t affect sleep or feeding. It usually disappears over a period of weeks or months and typically isn’t seen after 12 months of age.

Is cradle cap (infant seborrheic dermatitis) contagious?

Cradle cap is not contagious to others. It is rarely itchy or uncomfortable for your baby. Cradle cap is not due to an allergy or poor hygiene, or to an infection or fungus, and will not leave scars.

What causes cradle cap (infant seborrheic dermatitis)?

The exact cause of infant seborrheic dermatitis is unknown. Overproduction of your baby’s oil-producing sebaceous glands or a type of yeast in the oil may contribute to your baby’s condition. The glands are on the baby’s scalp. Scientists think the changing hormone levels in the mother’s body during pregnancy may cause a baby’s sebaceous glands to overproduce. Normal skin cells are naturally shed in a process called desquamation. However, the cells will remain stuck to the scalp if there is an abundance of oil. This causes no harm to your baby.

Are certain babies more likely to get cradle cap (infant seborrheic dermatitis)?

Infants are more likely to have cradle cap if they have a family member with eczema or asthma. The rate of occurrence is equal between males and females, and it doesn’t affect one ethnicity more often than another.

What are the signs of cradle cap (infant seborrheic dermatitis)?

  • Redness, and crusty brown or yellow scales on the scalp that resemble fish scales.
  • Scales feel fragile and flaky, or waxy and greasy, to the touch.

Note: Cradle cap is seborrheic dermatitis that is limited to your baby’s scalp. If your baby has redness and scaling on their eyelids, in the folds of their neck and armpits, behind their ears, and on their face and diaper areas, this is called seborrheic dermatitis or seborrhea and should be brought to the attention of your healthcare provider.

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