What is cradle cap, and how can parents get rid of it?

Cradle cap is a rash that consists of yellow, greasy-looking scales concentrated on the scalp, says Dr. Denise Woodall-Ruff, attending physician in the division of general pediatrics at Cohen Children’s Medical Center in New Hyde Park.

It’s a self-resolving rash — meaning if parents do nothing, it will go away on its own, Woodall-Ruff says. “It’s really innocent; it’s benign. It doesn’t affect the health,” she says.

But parents find it bothersome aesthetically. “Most parents just don’t like seeing the scales,” she says.

This is what Woodall-Ruff recommends to her patients to treat cradle cap: Apply olive oil or mineral oil to the scalp. (Baby oil isn’t as thick, so might not work as effectively, she says). “I actually prefer olive oil because it’s right in your house,” she says.

Leave it on the scalp for five to 10 minutes. While it’s there, take a soft-bristled baby hairbrush or a fine-tooth comb to gently brush off the flakes (the oil will loosen them, making that easier). “Then take baby shampoo and shampoo off the baby’s hair and rinse off the scales,” Woodall-Ruff advises.

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This can be done every other day, she says. Doing it every day may irritate the scalp.

The rash can recur. “Some babies have a really significant case of it,” she says. In that case, the baby could be taken to see a doctor for medicated shampoo or medicated cream, Woodall-Ruff says.

Some researchers think cradle cap may be triggered by a mother’s hormones during pregnancy, while others think it may be associated with the yeast on the scalp, Woodall-Ruff says. There is no known way to prevent it, she says.

By the time the baby is 1 year old, cradle cap will likely no longer be a problem, she says.