Cradle cap, or infantile seborrheic dermatitis


Your baby has yellowish scales on his or her head, and you don’t know what to do? This problem, known as seborrheic dermatitis (or “cradle cap”), is common and harmless in infants. Here is what you can do to prevent or eradicate it.

Le chapeau ou dermatite séborrhéique du nourrisson

All about cradle cap

Your baby is doing great, but you have started to notice small yellowish scales on his or her head. These may be a sign of seborrheic dermatitis, which most people know as “cradle cap.” This skin condition is completely harmless, but most parents dislike it because of its unsightly appearance. You can recognize cradle cap by the presence of thick, yellowish, sometimes oily looking scales on the baby’s scalp. There can also be a bit of redness around the scales, and these rough patches can also appear near the eyebrows. The child will not scratch his or her head because cradle cap is not usually itchy, nor does it cause any other symptoms aside from visible ones. Cradle cap may or may not be linked to redness on the buttocks and in skin folds.

Seborrheic dermatitis can be caused by excess oily secretions (sebum) or by insufficient rinsing of shampoo after washing hair. Babies usually develop dermatitis around the age of 3 or 4 weeks, and in general, it disappears around the age of one. Although rare, it can last throughout childhood and even adulthood.

Prevention and treatment of seborrheic dermatitis

It is possible to prevent cradle cap by using a mild shampoo, ideally fragrance-free, that is specially made for babies. As well, rinsing hair generously with clean water is a very important step to remove all traces of shampoo.

If your baby develops seborrheic dermatitis, you can simply use your regular baby shampoo and leave it on for 10 to 15 minutes to soften the scales. You then rinse hair generously with warm, clean water, then try to gently remove the scales with a small brush or a fine comb. If these measures are not sufficient, you can apply petroleum jelly, olive oil or mineral oil and leave it on for a few minutes or, even better, a few hours. It is also possible to leave the treatment on all night. Later, remove the scales with a brush or comb, and wash your baby’s hair with the usual shampoo and make sure to rinse well with clean water. It is normal for hair to sometimes fall out with scales, but don’t worry, it will grow back! You can repeat this treatment each time it is necessary.

Most of the time, seborrheic dermatitis disappears on its own, without requiring intervention.

When to see your pharmacist or doctor

Although seborrheic dermatitis is not a risk to your child’s health, you may want to seek medical advice in the following situations:

  • the problem persists or worsens after a few weeks, despite your interventions;
  • your child seems bothered by the scales (pain or itchiness);
  • cradle cap is accompanied by lesions or significant redness in skin folds or on the buttocks.

In some cases, your pharmacist or doctor will recommend using a medicated shampoo or topical medication (to apply on the scalp). Never use an over-the-counter product without consulting your pharmacist first.

Seborrheic dermatitis is one of many common conditions that appear in a child’s first year. There is no need to worry, especially since you can always count on your pharmacist to help. Here’s hoping that the only caps you see on your baby’s head are the ones you’ll make him or her wear for giggles!

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