Cradle cap -- patches of thickened, scaly-looking crusts on your baby's head -- might not bother your baby, but it could make your life miserable. Medically termed infantile seborrheic dermatitis, cradle cap can last up to age 3 and sometimes recurs beyond this period in an adult form, according to PubMed Health. Most cases clear up within a few weeks to months. Cradle cap generally causes no harm, although it might look terrible to your eyes.
Cradle cap has nothing to do with your parenting skills or how well you wash your baby's hair. Excess oil production from sebum glands cause cradle cap, which can also occur on the eyebrows, ear, nose, back of the neck and groin. In some case, a fungal infection called malassezia, which grows in the sebum, can contribute to cradle cap. Cradle cap differs from a similar-looking skin condition with a different cause, eczema, because it does not itch as eczema does.
Making It Better
The right treatment will usually make cradle cap go away faster. Frequent shampooing with a mild baby shampoo followed by soft brushing of your baby's hair can help remove the crusts. A doctor-prescribed anti-fungal cream might also help. Rubbing a few drops of petroleum jelly or mineral oil into the scalp and letting it soak in for at least two minutes can help loosen the crusts before you wash the hair, Kids Health from Nemours recommends. Loosening them first can make the crusts easier to brush out.
Making It Worse
Certain treatments can make cradle cap worse and may prolong its duration. Rubbing baby oil into the scalp and leaving it on can worsen cradle cap by building up the scales. Any time you put oil on the scales, make sure to wash it off, thoroughly, and do not leave it to sit in the hair overnight.
When to Seek Help
Most of the time, you do not need to see your baby's doctor about cradle cap. It will eventually resolve on its own, usually within a few weeks. But if he starts to lose his hair in areas with cradle cap, or if his head becomes firm, warm, red or has areas of drainage, which could indicate an infection, make an appointment with his pediatrician. Medicated dandruff shampoos, cortisone creams and antifungal creams can help, but use them only if your baby's doctor prescribes them. Some can have harmful side effects when absorbed through an infant's skin.
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