Babies who develop red, scaly skin on their scalp in the first few weeks after birth may have what's commonly called cradle cap. This condition, which goes by the medical name "infantile seborrheic dermatitis," is fairly common among young infants. Though it’s called cradle cap, it can also appear in other creases of the baby’s body, such as under the armpits, on the neck or behind the ears.
Parents who find cradle cap on their babies are often concerned. The condition looks as if it's uncomfortable or itchy, but that is almost never the case. It's actually harmless and non-contagious and usually can be treated with gentle home remedies until it goes away within a few weeks or months.
Causes of Cradle Cap
The condition is called seborrheic dermatitis because it occurs where the baby has the greatest number of sebaceous, or oil-producing, glands. Researchers aren’t sure why some babies have it and others don't, but this probably has something to do with the overproduction of oil from those glands. One theory is that this may be caused by hormonal changes that the mother goes through during pregnancy.
Cradle cap is easy to treat. Start by washing the baby’s hair with shampoo, rubbing the scalp to remove the scales. Though there are medicated shampoos for cradle cap, it’s best to ask a pediatrician before using these because some can irritate the baby’s skin.
Next, brush the baby’s scalp with a soft brush to further remove scales and apply a thin layer of a petroleum jelly to the affected areas. Hydrocortisone cream (1 percent) can be used instead of petroleum jelly, but again, ask the child's pediatrician first. Repeat this routine frequently to help remove cradle cap and keep it from coming back.
SOURCES: American Academy of Pediatrics; U.S. Office on Women's Health