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Cradle cap


Cradle cap (infantile seborrhoeic dermatitis) is a self-limiting greasy, scaly rash of unknown cause that most commonly affects the scalps of babies.  Overactive sebaceous glands, maternal hormones and skin yeasts have been suggested as possible causes.


  • Can present in the first month of life (unlike atopic dermatitis which tends to present later)
  • Typically the scalp is affected with greasy, scaly patches that may eventually affect the whole scalp
  • The faces, ears, neck and nappy area may also be affected
  • Unlike atopic dermatitis, the baby is usually not affected by the condition, although mild pruritus may occur
The head of a young infant covered in brown, crusting scales of cradle cap
Cradle cap


Most cases will clear spontaneously between 8-12 months of age

Tends to respond well to treatment but can be recurrent in nature

Moisturisers and emollient bath oils can help soften scales for removal with gentle brushing

Mild shampoos help

Ketoconazole 2%

Selenium sulphide shampoo

Tar containing shampoo

Some authors have suggested avoiding olive oil to treat this condition, on the basis that it can encourage the proliferation of Malassezia yeasts, a suggested virulence factor.  However, there is no evidence that use of olive oil worsens cradle cap.

Differential Diagnosis

  • Atopic dermatitis
  • Consider immunodeficiency in children with extensive disease and failure to thrive (eg Wiskott-Aldrich syndrome, HIV infection)

Selected references

E-learning for healthcare – Paediatric DermatologyDermnet NZJAMA NetworkNHS Evidence Search – Cradle Cap



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