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Cradle Cap vs. Eczema: What’s the Difference?

Cradle cap vs eczema: what's the difference?

As a parent, one of the most challenging things to deal with is your baby’s skin issues. Babies have delicate and soft skin prone to dryness and irritation, and their skin is still developing. It does not have the same natural oils as adults. That is why babies are more likely to develop skin issues like cradle cap and eczema.

Cradle Cap and Eczema are two common skin conditions affecting babies, young children, and adults. Cradle cap is a type of Seborrheic Dermatitis that affects the baby’s scalp and is characterized by thick, oily scales. In contrast, eczema is a skin condition that can affect any body part and is characterized by red, inflamed, thickened, itchy skin on lighter skin tones, while on darker skin tones, it may appear darker than usual or even purple and can be itchy.

In this blog, we will look closer at the differences between cradle cap and eczema, their causes, and how to manage them. We will also provide tips for making your baby’s skin healthy and comfortable again.

Is Cradle Cap and Eczema the Same?

Your baby has dry, flaky skin, and it’s hard to determine whether it’s Cradle Cap, Eczema, or Dandruff. Cradle cap and eczema may belong to the dermatitis family, but their symptoms, causes, and treatments differ.

What is Cradle Cap?

Seborrheic dermatitis, commonly known as cradle cap, is a common skin condition affecting babies in the first few months of their life, usually from around 3 to 12 months. It mostly appears on the scalp as scaly, crusty patches but can spread to the face, neck, and ears. Don’t worry. It is not harmful. The exact causes of cradle cap are still unknown, but here is a list of factors that may be triggering this skin condition:

  • Sebaceous glands causing overproduction of sebum
  • Fungal colonization of the skin
  • Elevated fatty acids
  • Dry skin

What is Eczema?

Atopic dermatitis, commonly called eczema, is a chronic skin condition that causes inflammation and itchiness. It is commonly found on the face, hands, creases of elbows and knees, and feet. Unlike cradle cap, it is a long-term skin condition requiring proper treatment and care. The exact cause of eczema is still unclear, but it is believed that a combination of factors the reason behind it, such as:

  • Genetics
  • Allergens
  • Stress and worry
  • The three factors above can result in skin barrier dysfunction
  • Bacterial infection happens less frequently but can be the source of flare-ups

Identifying Cradle Cap vs Eczema

Cradle cap usually occurs as crusty and flaky patches on the baby’s scalp. Some other common symptoms of cradle cap are

  • Thick, greasy, yellow, or brown patches on the scalp and flakes on the eyebrows
  • Redness and inflammation behind the ears and in armpits and folds of diaper
  • Mild discomfort.

People with eczema usually face itchy and inflamed patches on the skin and, depending on a person’s skin color, can make the skin appear red or pink (lighter skin tones) or darker than usual or purple appearing (darker skin tones). Symptoms of eczema may differ depending on the extent of the condition. Some other signs to observe are

  • Dry, scaly patches that are rough to the touch.
  • Intense itching.
  • The affected area may become swollen or puffy.
  • In severe cases, the skin oozes.
  • Increases sensitivity to certain products or substances.


There are no specific tests to diagnose cradle cap or eczema, and the healthcare provider may usually rely on observation and estimation for diagnosis. Some factors they may consider are your baby’s health history, physical observation, and rarely allergy tests if needed.

Effective Treatment Options/ Treating Cradle Cap and Eczema

Seborrheic dermatitis and atopic dermatitis are two different skin conditions with different causes. Just like that, their treatment is also different. The cradle cap can disappear on its own within a few weeks or months, but it often persists. When the cradle cap persists beyond infancy, it is known as the toddler cradle cap. Approximately one in three children under the age of 5 years old persist with this condition.

There are a few simple ways to make your baby’s scalp smooth and scale-free, like washing your baby’s hair regularly with gentle medicated shampoo. You can use a fine toothed comb or a cradle cap brush to remove the scales.

We don’t recommend applying baby or mineral oil to the scalp as it can worsen the problem. It is always a good idea to consult your doctor about their preferred specially formulated shampoo for cradle cap.

Unlike cradle cap, you need to follow a proper treatment plan for eczema to get rid of it. Some of these are applying eczema cream to help soothe the skin and irritation and applying a wet, cool dressing to the affected area. The doctor may prescribe topical corticosteroids,  topical calcineurin inhibitors ointments, or oral antihistamines to help relieve itching and scratching.

When To See A Doctor For Cradle Cap Or Eczema?

Suppose you notice that the cradle cap and eczema have not disappeared or have gotten worse, and there is no improvement in either skin condition with home remedies. In that case, it is important to consult a doctor. Especially if the affected area becomes painful and oozing pus or the condition spreads to other areas of the body. A pediatrician or dermatologist will examine the affected area and recommend appropriate treatment, including using ointments, oral medication, or usingsulfate-free, fragrance free shampoo for cradle and eczema.


Cradle cap and eczema may appear similar, but they are two different skin conditions. Cradle cap primarily affects babies. About 10% of teenagers and adults suffer from seborrheic dermatitis. On the other hand, atopic dermatitis is a chronic skin issue affecting people of all ages, and this tends to occur more frequently than seborrheic dermatitis. As one ages, eczema may manifest on different parts of the body. The root cause of cradle cap is likely increased oil production combined with yeast or fungus colonization of the skin, and the principal cause of eczema has to do with skin barrier dysfunction.

Proper treatment and care can help you prevent and control the recurrence of these skin conditions. Choosing the right products, like Happy Cappy Baby Skincare Routine Bundle to Manage Cradle Cap and Eczema can help keep your baby’s skin hydrated, soft, and healthy.


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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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Why do babies get cradle cap?

The exact cause for this skin condition is unknown, but overactive sebaceous glands are thought to play a key role in causing it. These glands interact with a yeast called Malassezia which creates a byproduct that is irritating to the skin.

Can adults get cradle cap?

While cradle cap is common in babies, adults can also develop a similar condition, seborrheic dermatitis.

Can eczema form on the scalp?

Yes. Eczema can develop in any part of the body.

Can you have both cradle cap and eczema at the same time?

Yes, you can have both cradle cap and eczema. Especially in babies and young children, it is common for them to face both simultaneously. If you suspect your baby has both skin conditions, seeking medical attention from a healthcare provider is best.

Is cradle cap contagious?

No, cradle cap can not spread from one person to another.

Can cradle cap cause hair loss?

It can cause temporary hair thinning and breakage in severe cases. Of note, most babies lose a lot of hair at around 4 months of age with or without a cradle cap.

What is the likelihood of recurrence of cradle cap and eczema?

The likelihood of recurrence depends on both cradle cap and eczema. Cradle cap usually resolves in a few weeks or months but may persist in about 1 in 3 children under 5 years of age. Eczema is a skin condition with relapses and remissions throughout life. Regular skin care and proper treatment can help reduce the frequency of recurrence for both conditions. Consulting a doctor is a good idea. They may provide personalized guidance and treatment options.

Can eczema be treated with over-the-counter (OTC) creams?

All cases of eczema should be treated with non-prescription bland emollients. Bland emollient means moisturizing creams or ointments that do not have scent and color that protect and restore the skin barrier. All eczema should be seen by a healthcare professional to see if any OTC steroid (hydrocortisone) or prescription ointments should be prescribed that would be used IN ADDITION to the Happy Cappy Moisturizing Cream.

Can eczema go away on its own?

Eczema is a chronic condition, meaning it waxes and wanes. It comes and goes depending on many factors in one’s own body and external factors like the weather in your environment.

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