What is Cradle Cap?

Babies often seem to have such flawless skin, so it can be especially concerning when they develop any kind of skin condition. Fortunately, cradle cap, a form of seborrhoeic dermatitis, is not something to lose sleep over since it’s not itchy or contagious and although it might look uncomfortable for babies, they’re generally not bothered by it.

What is cradle cap?

Cradle cap shows up as thick, waxy, often yellowish scales on the scalp, usually towards the front of the head1. It is an extremely common condition, occurring in around 10% of babies, especially between 3 to 12 months of age2.

What causes cradle cap?

We don’t know for sure what causes cradle cap, but it’s thought to be related to hyperactive oil glands which may respond to circulating maternal hormones2. An abnormal immune response to the fungal yeast Malassezia, which is a normal part of the skin microbiome, may also be involved, but its role isn’t clear2. One thing we know is that it’s not caused by poor hygiene3

What to do about it

Since cradle cap is harmless, it’s best to avoid treatment, if possible. The condition will usually clear up on its own after a few months. Gentle application of an emollient or regular shampooing can help loosen the scales, which may then be removed with soft brushing2.  It’s important not to forcibly remove the scales by scraping or picking at them. If you are concerned that the condition is spreading or not resolving on its own, or if you notice redness or weeping around the scales which might be a sign of infection, talk to your doctor about treatment options3

By Josh Townley, PhD.

Josh is a science writer with 10 years experience in the pharmaceutical and skincare world, first developing products in the R&D lab, then registering them in the regulatory department. He has a PhD in chemistry and a bachelor’s degree in forensic science.


1. Gelmetti CM, Grimalt R. Infantile Seborrhoeic Dermatitis. In: Harper’s Textbook of Pediatric Dermatology. John Wiley & Sons, Ltd; 2011. page 35.1-35.8.

2. Ngan V, Stewart T. Cradle cap [Internet]. DermNet NZ. 2017 [cited 2021 Mar 22];Available from: www.dermnetnz.org/topics/cradle-cap/.

3. Healthdirect Australia. Cradle cap [Internet]. 2019;Available from: www.healthdirect.gov.au/cradle-cap.