How is cradle cap (infant seborrheic dermatitis) treated?

If your baby’s seborrheic dermatitis is limited to the scalp as cradle cap, you can treat it yourself. Here’s what you need to do:

  • Wash your baby’s scalp daily with mild baby shampoo.
  • Massage lathered hair gently with your fingers or a washcloth.
  • Softly brush your baby’s hair to help remove the scales. There are combs designed specifically for cradle cap, but a soft toothbrush also works. Do not pick at the scales with your fingernails or sharp tools as this may cause bleeding or lead to possible infection. (Alternative approach: Apply a small amount of petroleum jelly or mineral oil to help loosen the scales on your baby’s scalp. Leave on for several hours or overnight. Use a soft brush to remove the scales and wash your baby’s hair afterward.)
  • Over-the-counter cradle cap lotions are available. The lotion should be applied to your baby’s scalp at least 15 minutes before shampooing. Rinse it off well before shampooing.
  • After scales disappear, shampoo your baby’s hair two to three times a week to help prevent cradle cap from returning. Afterward, decrease shampoos to twice weekly.

Other treatments

Your pediatrician may also prescribe topical steroids, local antifungals, or anti-seborrheic shampoos if your baby’s condition persists.

When should I call my healthcare provider?

Call your healthcare provider if:

  • If the rash is not resolving or improving within one week after the start of prescription treatment.
  • If the rash is affecting the neck, the armpit, the diaper area, or other areas beyond the scalp.
  • If the cradle cap continues beyond 12 months of age.

Rarely, the area may become infected. Signs of infection include:

  • Draining liquid.
  • Looks very red or painful.
  • Forms larger crusts or scabs.
  • Foul odor.
  • Pimples or blisters.

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