Cradle Cap (Seborrheic dermatitis)

Medically reviewed by The Dermatologists and written by Dr. Alexander Börve

More than 200,000 US cases per year

  • Often self-diagnosisable
  • Symptoms: Scales on the scalp
  • Color: Typically yellow-brown
  • Location: Scalp
  • Treatment: No treatment necessary, lubrication with mild shampoo

ICD-10: L21.0
ICD-9: 690.11

Cradle cap is the thick, yellow-brownish spots that often appear on the scalp in babies. It is sometimes known as milk crust, because the affected skin can feel crusty, and comes off in small, dandruff-like flakes. Milk crust is a misnomer–cradle cap has nothing to do with the baby being fed on milk.

Similar skin lesions may also appear on the forehead, face, elbows, buttocks or in the skin underneath the diapers. These kinds of conditions are categorized as eczema. Underneath the spots, the skin is red and irritated. Even though cradle cap is completely harmless and not contagious, many parents want to try to get rid of it because it looks unpleasant.

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Is common among newborns and usually disappears after six months of age. Some young children have greater areas of fat yellow-brown scales on the eyebrows or around the ears. The child’s skin can redden, especially in the face, the neck folds, armpits and groin. Seborrheic eczema does not itch and usually does not irritate the child in any way. Seborrheic dermatitis is not contagious.


What can I do?

If the affected area is small and you would like to remove cradle cap, you can rub the baby’s scalp with baby oil at night. In the morning, you should wash the scalp with a mild, unscented baby shampoo. After that, you rub the scalp gently with a towel or with products containing borage oil to remove the crust. The oil is usually available in pharmacies. Repeat the treatment if the problem recurs.

If the child’s cradle cap is stuck, you can lubricate the evening with salicylic acid to soften the crust. They are available without prescription at most pharmacies. In the morning, gently remove the crust with a towel, brush or comb. Then, wash the hair with a mild, unscented baby shampoo. This treatment may need to be done several times.

If you want to protect the bedding, you can put a towel or a thin cap over the baby’s head.


Should I seek medical care?

If you have treated the child with mild cortisone cream for a week and the affected area has not improved or if the rash itches, you should contact your healthcare provider.



It usually disappears by itself, but it can also turn into what is called seborrheic dermatitis or dandruff eczema.

If you absolutely want your child to get rid of cradle cap, try the following:
Wash your child’s hair with a mild baby shampoo and remove the softened scurf with a small, soft brush or a fine comb. If the crust is very firm, rub a little Vaseline or a few drops of olive oil into the baby’s scalp and leave overnight before washing the hair and scalp.

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Clinical Inquiries. What’s the Best Treatment for Cradle Cap? Ryan C Sheffield et. al. Review J Fam Pract. 2007 Mar;56(3):232-3.

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