Cradle Cap in Adults: Treatment, Symptoms & Causes

Cradle cap, as the name suggests, is generally found in children — humans that still occupy cradles. Normally the condition fades before the age of five, commonly much earlier, but it can persist into adulthood in some individuals. When this happens, it’s usually a lifelong inconvenience.

Can Adults Get Cradle Cap?

happy cappy cruelty free shampoo While uncommon, adult cradle cap is a thing. However, it’s not generally referred to as such – in most cases, it’s more frequently called seborrheic dermatitis.

But that doesn’t mean there’s nothing you can do about it. Cradle cap on adults is just as treatable as it is in children. Adults have more treatment options available to them, in fact.

That may not feel lucky to you, but it could be worse — imagine strained peas, mushy bananas, and lukewarm milk for every meal. Babies have it rough!

What Causes Cradle Cap in Adults?

The cause of cradle cap in general is unknown, however, most health experts believe that it’s connected to the overproduction of oil in the skin and hair follicles. Malassezia, a natural yeast found in the skin, may also be to blame. But just like cradle cap in babies, adult cradle cap isn’t the result of poor scalp hygiene.

How Cradle Cap Differs from Dandruff

Cradle cap causes dry, crusty patches of skin on the scalp that flake, leaving an unfortunate snowstorm on your collar and shoulders. This might remind you of another condition — dandruff. Could they be interchangeable?

The two conditions are undoubtedly similar. One is just more intense than the other. It might help to picture skin ailments as a spectrum. Dandruff is on the less intense side of the spectrum, there is mild flaking and itching. Because of an otherwise benign yeast called Malassezia, the skin sheds much more rapidly than it should with dandruff, leading to characteristic flakes.

Cradle cap lands on the far side of the spectrum. Cradle cap causes scaly, itchy, flaking patches of skin that are often yellowish. In people with darker skin color, the scales stuck to the skin can be browner in color. These patches can be raised, rough, and crusty, and feel more oily than dry.

Besides the scalp, other areas affected:

  • Flaking and scales on the eyebrows
  • Scales and red weepy spots behind the ears
  • Redness and flakes on the folds where the nose meets the cheek.

Compared to a relatively mild case of dandruff, cradle cap is a more extreme reaction. It’s dandruff’s angrier, more destructive older brother. It claims to be misunderstood, but we think it’s a bad seed.

Treatment for Cradle Cap in Adults

The same yeast, skin oils, and hormones that promote cradle cap in infants are present in older individuals. However, “cradle cap” is not the only way to address this condition of flaking and scaling on the scalp of an adult.

To start, adults with cradle cap can remove any imagined stigma by using the clinical term “seborrheic dermatitis.” As a bonus, you’ll sound much more sophisticated when you whip out a seven-syllable medical term.

Either way, learn more here about seborrheic dermatitis.

For relatively mild cases, your first lines of defense in the adult cradle cap treatment realm are the various commercially available dandruff shampoos. A number of manufacturers offer lines with various active ingredients, including selenium sulfide, salicylic acid, ketoconazole, and coal tar. These are proven medicated treatments and can be effective for many people.

Those with sensitive, easily irritated skin may need a milder approach. In many cases, sensitive skin is associated with skin conditions like adult cradle cap, eczema, and psoriasis. For these sufferers, the harsh dyes, fragrances, and foaming ingredients found in many commercial preparations can be irritating and may worsen their condition.

Alternatively, you can give natural tea tree oil a try. Tea tree oil has some antifungal, antimicrobial, and soothing properties and can be a helpful adjunct. You can start with a few drops of the essential oil in your regular shampoo and then adjust the dosage as necessary. However, some people find essential oils to be quite irritating to their skin.

How to Treat Cradle Cap in Adults: Sometimes Gentler is Better

Understanding how to get rid of cradle cap in adults is all about scaling back from the harsh shampoos and moving to something more gentle.

Instead of heavy commercial preparations, those with sensitive skin should favor shampoos with zinc pyrithione (which is the same as pyrithione zinc), a time-tested medication that’s easy on your skin.

Your best bet for cradle cap treatment for adults is a natural preparation like Dr. Eddie’s Happy Cappy Medicated Shampoo, Face and Body Wash that pairs zinc pyrithione with gentle surfactants and humectants (ingredients that add moisture to the skin) like apple fruit extract, glycerin, provitamin b5 and licorice root extract. These mild, nature-based compounds gently soothe the redness and itch associated with cradle cap while promoting a healthier scalp. They’re gentle enough for babies but strong enough for adults.

Once you have your flare-ups under control, it’s helpful to learn of any possible triggers like stress for example, and avoid them. Adults with cradle cap can easily control their symptoms with consistent practice and the right treatment. Find a maintenance practice that works for you, and then stick with it.

Looking to learn more about the children’s variety of cradle cap? Click here.

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Dr. Eddie Valenzuela is an award winning pediatrician and the founder and CEO of Pediatric Solutions, LLC.

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