Crusty and Oily Patches on Scalp – Treatment and Prevention of Cradle Cap in Infants

Crusty and Oily Patches on Scalp – Treatment and Prevention of Cradle Cap in Infants

There is nothing precious, innocent and defenseless like a baby. So it becomes an alarming situation for the parents if their bundle of joy develops discoloration or scaly patches over their soft skin. If you are parents of a newborn, you must have heard about cradle cap. Let’s know about this very common condition affecting infants.

Cradle cap

Babies have soft and smooth skin. But sometimes, many newborns can experience rough and scaly patches on their scalp. These patches are known as cradle cap. It is also known as seborrheic dermatitis which is a dandruff form of infants. Other terminologies associated with the condition are crusta lacteal, milk crust, honeycomb disease and pityriasis capitis.

The name of this skin condition is derived from the most common place, where a child would wear a cap. The inflammatory skin condition is characterized by red bumps and then turning into the yellow and crusty skin. When we see these rough patches on our infant, we might think it’s something serious, but cradle cap is totally harmless.

Is cradle cap contagious?

Cradle cap begins on the scalp and can spread to various other parts of the body. However, this condition is not contagious even if it looks unpleasant to eyes. It does not cause any form of discomfort to the baby including itching. It’s also not related to poor hygiene.

What causes cradle cap in infants?

There is no specific cause as to why scaly patches form on the scalp. However, there could be several underlying causes responsible for the manifestation of these patches. These include:

Clogging of sebaceous glands

Experts believe that these patches can appear when the oil glands (sebaceous glands) in the skin produce excess of oil. The sebum keeps the skin smooth and flexible. When these glands get clogged for some reason, the excess of oil accumulates and may form patches on the skin.

Fungal infection

The sebaceous gland can be affected by fungi called as Malassezia that can cause infection and eventually result in cradle cap.


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Heat and humidity

Places which have humidity in the summer season can cause the sebaceous gland to overwork. Due to dampness, the baby can also suffer diaper rashes.

Vitamin deficiency

Deficiency of biotin, one of the essential B12 vitamins, can cause cradle cap in the infants.

Influence of mother’s hormones

Some other doctor believes that influence of mother’s hormones can force the glands to work harder.

Common signs and symptoms to watch for cradle cap

Cradle cap is not restricted only to scalp; it can affect other body parts such as on the face, behind the ear and in the armpits. Also, the color of the patches will depend on the color of your baby’s skin. The baby can have white, yellowish or darker patches and may flake over the time.

Following signs must be noticed:

  • The skin on the scalp may appear greasy
  • Red skin instead of scaly and flaky
  • Hair loss on the site of affection
  • Excessive oily skin

How long does the condition last?

Cradle cap is not a harmful condition and does not cause any discomfort. The condition typically goes away on its own when the child reaches 8-12 months of age. However, the condition can recur after some years.

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Treatment for cradle cap – Home remedies

The doctor can diagnose the condition right away at seeing the scalp without conducting any kind of tests. Once you are diagnosed, cradle cap can be successfully treated at home through following methods:


When the extra oil on the scalp is removed, the condition improves. This can be done by using baby shampoo and gently rubbing onto the affected region. The doctor might suggest you to wash your baby’s head every day. This is more often than you normally do.

Avoid using shampoo containing ingredients of dandruff removal, until and unless the doctor says so. Use a mild moisturizer after shampooing. Consult your doctor for the best and safest brand.

Massaging and brushing 

Massage the scalp of your baby and then gently brush the hair with a soft bristled brush meant for babies. The patches would flake and loosen over the time and fall off.


It might sound counter intuitive, but oil treatment, applying petroleum jelly, olive oil or similar ointment on the scales of the scalp can work in your baby’ favour. Many parents have tried this and earned success. Talk to your doctor if you can use such things.


In case of inflammation on the scalp, the doctor might prescribe hydrocortisone cream. This is typically not necessary, but if you really want to use, ask your doctor first.

When to consult a doctor?

At times, it is better to seek medical advice. If the scales on the scalp of your little one does not go away or is getting worse when you are treating at home, you must consult your pediatrician. Your baby may develop fever or in some cases or patches may drain fluid or pus and become painful.

In case of inflammation and infection, antibiotics might be prescribed or antifungal shampoo. As the exact cause of this disorder is unknown, we cannot prevent it completely. However, in the majority of cases, cradle cap does not recur in future. Once the patches have gone, washing and gently brushing the scalp will automatically prevent it from reoccurring.


1. Cradle Cap(Infantile Seborrheic Dermatitis) (2014, August). KidsHealth read more
2. Cradle cap(2017, April 01). NHS Choices read more
3. Cradle cap(2018, April). BetterHealth read more
4. Cradle cap(2017, May 14). MedlinePlus 
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