What is Cradle Cap?


My five month old has a flaky scalp from time to time. It doesn't seem to bother him, but it bothers me. What is it? How do I take care of it? Will it go away, or will he just get hair to cover it up?
San Mateo, California

Dr. Greene's Answer

It’s called “Cradle Cap” and it’s very common in infants. It is a sign of healthy skin growth, so consider yourself (and your beautiful baby) very lucky!

Here is how it works: we are constantly making new skin cells at about the rate that we lose old, dry skin cells. The old skin falls off and we usually don’t even notice the process.

In healthy infants, the skin cells on their scalp are growing faster than they fall off, leaving a layer of extra, somewhat crusty skin.

If it isn’t bothering baby (sometimes it itches) you don’t need to do anything about it. But if it is bothering you, there is no problem with gently removing it.

Simply rub a small amount of baby oil or olive oil on to your baby’s scalp. Wait a few minutes for it to soften and brush it away with a soft brush or a dry terry-cloth wash cloth. The oil will leave baby’s hair a bit limp, so you may want to do this right before bath time.

In serious cases or if your baby is over six months old, a special shampoo or small amount of hydrocortisone cream to the scalp may be considered, but these should only be used after discussion with your pediatrician.

Last medical review on: July 30, 2008
About the Author
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Dr. Greene is a practicing physician, author, national and international TEDx speaker, and global health advocate. He is a graduate of Princeton University and University of California San Francisco.
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