EXPERT ADVICE: Cradle Cap

This scalp condition looks unsightly but is completely harmless and temporary. Here’s what you need to know about cradle cap.

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Your newborn’s skin is soft and delicate and smells oh-so-good. That’s why it can be quite alarming when he suddenly develops scaly patches all over his scalp, or other parts of his skin in his early weeks.

When Alicia Ho’s younger son was 4 weeks old, he started developing yellow crust-like patches on his scalp, and also his eyebrows. “He was in perfectly good health, but I didn’t want to take many photos because it was quite unsightly,” she says.

Cradle cap, or seborrheic dermatitis, is a common rash that occurs on the scalp of infants. Dr Lynn Chiam, a consultant dermatologist at Children & Adult Skin Hair and Laser Clinic, says that it usually looks yellowish, greasy and crusty.

What causes cradle cap?

Cradle cap is thought to be caused by the overactive sebaceous glands in the skin of newborn babies.

“Stimulated by maternal hormones still present in the infant’s blood circulation, they release a greasy substance that attaches old skin cells to the scalp,” Dr Chiam explains. “That causes the scaling we see.”

It’s important to note that cradle cap is not caused by allergies, infection or poor hygiene.

Cradle cap not only affects babies, but toddlers can get it, too.

Where can it appear?

Despite the name, it not only affects the scalp, but also the face and other parts of the body.

“It can appear anywhere in the skin where there is a high concentration of sebaceous glands,” Dr Chiam notes. “This includes areas between the eyes, eyebrows, the sides of the nose, and behind the ears and neck.”

Cradle cap not only affects babies, but toddlers can get it, too.

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What parents can do?

Washing your baby’s head with a mild baby shampoo can stave off the scales. Doing this two or three times a week should suffice.

As much as you may be tempted to wash your baby’s hair daily, overwashing can cause the skin to significantly increase its oil production and boost your baby’s chances of developing cradle cap.

Soft brushing helps, too. Or use a soft towel to rub the affected area gently. Think of it as a very gently exfoliation.

For more resistant scales, apply a small amount of baby oil and comb gently. If that does not work, a doctor may prescribe a medicated shampoo containing ketoconazole and mild topical steroids for the affected areas.

How long does it take to heal?

While it may look unpleasant and can invite questions about your little one’s skin, the crusting will go away with time.

After all, your baby’s only recently arrived in the world and you should cut his little body some slack.

In most cases, cradle cap clears up after a few weeks, Dr Chiam notes. For others, it may continue for six to nine months. However, for children with eczema, seborrheic dermatitis may occur again.

Get to know our expert… Dr Lynn Chiam is a consultant dermatologist at Children & Adult Skin Hair and Laser Clinic.

This article was adapted from the November 2015 issue of Mother & Baby Singapore.

Photos: iStock

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