Cradle Cap

By Dr Megan Yap - PaediatricianGeneral04 Jun 2018

Both my kids had mild cradle cap.  I knew it was completely harmless and would go away on its own, but was one of “those parents” who could not help but look at it, and then try to get rid of it.

Here’s a quick post on a very common and harmless condition in babies.

What is it?

Cradle cap is a scaly, greasy-looking, waxy crust that some babies get on their scalps (and sometimes in other areas of the body as well).  It is usually first noticed in the first 3 months of life, and rarely persists past 12 months of age (although it can).  It looks kind of gross, but it doesn’t bother the baby and usually clears up without need for intervention after a few months.  It can also appear in your baby’s eyebrows.  It is a type of seborrheic dermatitis.

What causes it?

Our skin produces an oily substance called sebum from sebaceous glands, which serves to keep our skin moisturised and waterproof.  Cradle cap occurs when the inflamed skin glands produce too much sebum, usually under the influence of maternal hormones that persist in the baby’s bloodstream for a few months after birth.  The “crust” is the extra oil interfering with normal shedding of skin cells from the scalp, and is a layer of dead skin cells trapped in sebum.  Sounds delish doesn’t it (*insert vomit emoji here*)?


What can you do about it?

The simple answer is that you don’t have to do anything.  Cradle cap is not harmful, not contagious and is not uncomfortable for the baby.  Having said this, a lot of parents think it looks gross, so they like to get rid of it.  These are some things you can do:

  • Loosen the crusts with gentle and regular massage of the scalp with some baby oil, Vaseline or baby moisturising lotion. Sometimes it helps to leave this in overnight.
  • Use a mild baby shampoo to then wash it out. The sebum can cause hair to matt (I’m not even sure that is the right way to spell that word… oh well, you know what I mean), so it may take a few tries before it washes out completely. Over time, crusts will soften and will lift of with the massage, or with a soft baby toothbrush/cotton bud.
  • Don’t worry if the crusts come back – they often do. The glands continue to remain active for several months after birth (until the mother’s hormones diminish in the baby’s bloodstream) and then they remain inactive until puberty. Just keep gently massaging and washing to keep on top of it.
  • Don’t try to force the crusts or pick at them (yes you – hold yourself back!) because this can traumatise the baby’s skin and it can bleed.


When should you seek medical opinion?

  • If the skin looks infected (it can get infected with a fungus/yeast or bacteria)
    • If the skin gets red or starts to weep (bub might need antibiotics or an antifungal/steroid cream)
  • If your baby seems upset by it, scratches it or it persists longer than 3-4 months of age
  • If scaly patches appear on other parts of the face or body

You can take your baby to see your local friendly pharmacist, community health nurse or GP.


Don’t stress about it though… it’ll clear up eventually and in the meantime, enjoy your Crusty Kid ?

Stay well!!

xxDr Megs

For more articles from Dr Megan Yap visit her blog – “Dr Megs – Paeds & Feeds” at


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