How Cradle Cap Is Treated

Most cases of cradle cap (infantile seborrheic dermatitis) are mild, and they're usually easy to treat on your own with home remedies like shampooing and brushing. When that's not sufficient, over-the-counter medications may be enough to reduce flaking on a baby's scalp.

However, some babies can have more extensive cradle cap with thick scaling. In these instances, cradle cap treatment will likely require prescription medication.

Woman's hand rubbing baby oil into baby's scalp, close-up
Ruth Jenkinson / Getty Images

The good news is that, no matter it looks like, cradle cap is almost always a harmless condition. The goals of treatment are simply to improve the look of the skin and ease any dryness and itchiness.

This article explains the various treatments for cradle cap, including these and alternative treatments. You'll also learn when to call the doctor and what the outlook is for babies with cradle cap.

Home Remedies

For mild cradle cap, time is often the best treatment. Sometimes treatment may be necessary, though. Or you may just want to get rid of the flakes for cosmetic reasons.

Home remedies are often all you'll need. The most common recommendation is to wash your baby's hair often with a mild baby shampoo, then use a soft brush to remove the scales.

If the scales don't come off easily, you can:

  1. Rub a little baby oil, mineral oil, or petroleum jelly into your baby's scalp to soften the scales.
  2. After 10 to 15 minutes, use a soft brush to remove the scales.
  3. Then use baby shampoo to get rid of the oil. Leaving the oil on too long can make cradle cap worse.

Recap

Cradle cap eventually will clear up on its own. You can remove the scales with a soft brush after washing your baby's hair or, for stubborn scales, rubbing in baby oil or petroleum jelly.

Over-the-Counter Therapies

If your baby's cradle cap isn't helped with home remedies or is extensive, your pediatrician may recommend some over-the-counter (OTC) treatments. Don't use these without first talking to a healthcare provider.

OTC treatments include:

  • Steroid cream or lotion: Over-the-counter cream such as Cortaid may help with tough cases, such as when the scales look red and irritated.
  • Antiseborrheic or anti-dandruff shampoos: Products such as Selsun Blue, Sebulex shampoo, or Neutrogena T-Gel are generally used a few times a week.

Prescriptions

Sometimes, OTC treatments don't work well enough. This may especially be the case when cradle cap causes crusty red patches or thick, greasy yellow or brown scales. Severe cradle cap can lead to scalp infections. Those need to be treated with prescription antibiotics.

Recap

Stubborn or severe cases of cradle cap may need OTC topical steroids, anti-seborrheic shampoo, or prescription antifungal products. Infections are treated with antibiotics.

Complementary and Alternative Medicine

Essential oils are the main complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) treatment for cradle cap, but they should not be used on babies under 6 months old.

The oils most often recommended for cradle cap include:

  • Lemon oil
  • Geranium oil

Essential oils are extremely potent and should never be used without first being diluted by a carrier oil, such as jojoba or coconut oil.

A common ratio is 2 drops of essential oil in 2 tablespoons (Tbs) of carrier oil. To use it:

  • Rub the oil mixture into your baby's scalp.
  • Leave it on for a few minutes.
  • Brush off the flakes.
  • Shampoo your baby's hair to remove the oils.

Remember that even "natural" remedies can have dangerous side effects or interact badly with medications or supplements.

Never use CAM treatments on your baby without approval from their healthcare provider. Also consider talking to a certified aromatherapist about the safest way to use essential oils.

Recap

Certain essential oils may be diluted and applied to the scalp to treat cradle cap, but speak to a healthcare provider to make sure this is safe for your child.

When to See a Doctor

It's important to know when you should go straight to seeing a doctor versus trying to treat cradle cap on your own. It's possible that your baby may need a prescription medication right off the bat.

It's also possible that they may have an additional health concern that needs addressing.

Even those who were checked out by a healthcare provider may need to return for an evaluation—and perhaps a treatment change—if certain signs and symptoms arise.

Make an appointment with a healthcare provider if your baby has:

  • Scales on your baby's scalp or other skin symptoms do not go away or get worse after home care
  • Patches drain fluid or pus, form crusts, or become very red or painful
  • Your baby develops a fever (may be due to infection getting worse

Call your doctor immediately or get medical help right away if your baby is less than a month old and has blisters or pimples, looks or acts sick or has a fever.


Babies with widespread seborrheic dermatitis and other symptoms, such as failure to thrive (slow weight gain) or chronic diarrhea, may have other conditions. These include Leiner's disease and Langerhans cell histiocytosis X, both of which are rare.

After Treatment

Even after your child's cradle cap is treated, you may have to continue using an antiseborrheic shampoo to keep it from coming back. Many children outgrow cradle cap by the time they're a year old. Some children do continue to have some scale until they are much older. It usually becomes much milder and less noticeable, though.

Summary

Cradle cap will usually go away on its own. To remove scales, shampoo or rub baby oil or petroleum jelly on the scalp and use a soft brush.

In more extensive cases, steroid creams, special shampoos, antibiotics, or antifungals may be needed. Ask your healthcare provider before using essential oils or any other CAM treatments.

Get immediate medical help for blisters or pimples on the scalp of a baby less than a month old.

A Word From Verywell

Cradle cap may be caused by maternal hormones overstimulating the baby's oil glands before birth. Some experts think it may be a mild scalp yeast infection. Regardless, it's not a sign that you, as a parent, have done something "wrong." Initial symptoms can't be prevented.

If your baby is otherwise healthy, it's likely nothing to worry about. But if you have any questions or concerns, call your healthcare provider.

Was this page helpful?
10 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. UpToDate. Craddle cap and seborrheic dermatitis in infants.

  2. Victoire A, Magin P, Coughlan J, van Driel ML. Interventions for infantile seborrhoeic dermatitis (Including cradle cap). Cochrane Skin Group, ed. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. 2019;2019(3). doi: 14651858.cd011380.pub2

  3. The Nemours Foundation/KidsHealth. Cradle cap (seborrheic dermatitis) in infants.

  4. U.S. National Library of Medicine MedlinePlus. Cradle cap.

  5. Frawley JE, Anheyer D, Davidson S, Jackson D. Prevalence and characteristics of complementary and alternative medicine use by Australian children: Children’s use of complementary medicine. J Paediatr Child Health. 2017;53(8):782-787. doi: 10.1111/jpc.13555

  6. Senthil Kumar KJ, Gokila Vani M, Wang CS, et al. Geranium and lemon essential oils and their active compounds downregulate angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 (Ace2), a sars-cov-2 spike receptor-binding domain, in epithelial cells. Plants. 2020;9(6):770. doi: 10.3390/plants9060770

  7. The Cleveland Clinic. 11 Essential Oils: Thier Benefits and How to Use Them.

  8. The Cleveland Clinic. 11 Essential Oils: Thier Benefits and How to Use Them.

  9. Sanghvi SY, Schwartz RA. Leiner's disease (erythroderma desquamativum): A review and approach to therapyDermatol Ther. 2021;34(1):e14510. doi:10.1111/dth.14510

  10. U.S. National Library of Medicine. Langerhans cell histiocytosis.