What is the difference between Cradle Cap and Dandruff

Difference Between Cradle Cap And Dandruff

By Dr. Eddie Valenzuela

Your baby has soft, delicate skin that’s easily irritated. So, when flaky skin starts appearing on their head, you may understandably begin to get worried. Are these flakes a sign of dandruff or “cradle cap”? What’s the difference between “cradle cap” and dandruff, anyway?

The main difference between “cradle cap,” generally referred to as seborrheic dermatitis, and dandruff is severity. Dandruff can be thought of as a mild case of seborrheic dermatitis.

What Is Cradle Cap (Seborrheic Dermattis)?

Cradle cap, also known as infantile seborrheic dermatitis is a common skin condition in babies. It usually appears between the age of 3 weeks to 6 months. It appears as thick, greasy scales and flakes on the scalp and eyebrows and causes red, moist skin in the armpits, diaper area, and behind the ears.

Cradle cap may look alarming, but it is not harmful to the baby, and it isn’t contagious. And it is not caused by something in your control, which is why preventing it is a little difficult.

What Is Dandruff?

Dandruff is one of the most common scalp issues in the world. It causes white flakes to appear on the scalp. These flakes are usually dry and easily fall from the scalp. Dandruff is less common in babies, but when it appears, it is known as baby dandruff. 

Dandruff is formed when the skin cells on the scalp shed faster than they normally should. Normally it takes about a month for these cells to drop down from the scalp, but when one is experiencing dandruff, these skin cells turnover much faster in just a few days leading to the snowstorm on your shoulders.

What Causes Cradle Cap and Dandruff?

As dandruff is just a mild form of seborrheic dermatitis, or “cradle cap,” it can be said that seborrheic dermatitis causes dandruff.

The exact cause of seborrheic dermatitis isn’t clear, but doctors theorize that overactive sebaceous glands or a fungus called Malassezia are likely involved.  

The sebaceous glands in the skin produce an oil called sebum. If the sebaceous glands make too much sebum, the naturally occurring yeasts on the skin that live off the sebum also go into overdrive, causing a buildup of irritating byproducts that lead to the symptoms of seborrheic dermatitis.

Malassezia is a yeast-like fungus that naturally lives on the scalp. The visible manifestation of irritated skin is flaking and scaling.

Oily Dandruff VS Dry Dandruff

We have learned that dandruff is also caused by the same Malassezia yeast that causes cradle cap. But dandruff sometimes is also caused by other factors such as 

  • Extreme weather conditions
  • Dry air
  • Stress
  • Excessive washing

When other factors cause dandruff and it is dry in its appearance, then it is known as dry dandruff, which is what we generally what we are referring to when we say “dandruff.” 

But when dandruff is caused by Malassezia yeast, it is usually oily and greasy, then it is classified as oily dandruff which most physicians and non-physicians know as seborrheic dermatitis. 

To know more about the differences between oily dandruff and dry dandruff read our blog.

Difference Between Cradle Cap And Dandruff?

These conditions may look similar, but there are some differences between them.


The most common symptoms of cradle cap are

  • Redness
  • Yellow crusting
  • Scaling
  • Peeling skin
  • Flakes
  • Pink patches

While the symptoms of Dandruff are

  • White flakes
  • Small scales
  • Itching 


The appearance of red skin beneath the scales usually happens in cradle cap. The skin may appear red or pink in lighter skin tones and purple or brown in darker skin tones. However, dandruff does not cause redness beneath the flakes.


Itching is a common symptom of dandruff. Itching is mostly caused due to the dry scalp. Itching is not usually associated with cradle cap in babies. When itching does occur in cradle cap, it can be behind the ears. Older adults may report discomfort when seborrheic dermatitis presents in the folds between the nose and the cheeks– anatomically this area is called the supra alar crease and nasolabial fold. 

Areas Affected

Dandruff is mostly caused on the scalp and sometimes on the eyebrows. However cradle cap can show up almost anywhere on the body, usually on the head, around the eyebrows and nose, behind the ears, in neck folds, and in the diaper area.

Dry Scalp And Cradle Cap

Dry scalp and cradle cap may look very similar, but these can be two different skin conditions. 

A dry scalp in babies could be just flaky, dry skin on a baby’s scalp. This may cause the skin to feel rough and scaly, and is caused due to lack of moisture or sebum on the scalp. This is not very common in the first few months of life.

In the first couple weeks after birth seeing flakes on the scalp is likely part of the newborn skin peeling process. 

Cradle cap usually begins around 6 weeks of age on the scalp and has thicker, greasier scales, that look like a crust. 

Treating Seborrheic Dermatitis and Dandruff

Whether or not your baby gets “cradle cap” and dandruff is out of your control. However, you can help relieve the flaking and scaling associated with cradle cap and dandruff by following a few simple steps.

How To Get Rid Of Cradle Cap?

Cradle Cap Shampoo

The first and most important thing to manage cradle cap is to wash your baby’s scalp and skin regularly with a cradle cap shampoo. 

  • Use a medicated shampoo for cradle cap daily to cleanse the baby’s scalp.
  • While shampooing, use your fingers or a washcloth to rub the scales gently. 
  • Washing the baby’s scalp more than once a day can cause over drying
  • Once the scaling and flaking are relieved in 1 to 2 weeks, taper the use 2 to 3 times a week.

Cradle Cap Brush

Cradle cap brush is a soft-bristled brush that is specially formulated to help get rid of the scales associated with cradle cap. Brush your baby’s scalp in circular motions while shampooing to remove the loose scales.

Remember not to overdo it while brushing the baby’s scalp to remove the stubborn scales.

Rubbing too vigorously can cause excess irritation to an already sensitive area.

Try using Dr. Eddie’s Happy Cappy Bath Bundle, which contains a cradle cap shampoo and a cradle cap brush to help reduce scaling and flaking.

How To Get Rid Of Dandruff?

Anti Dandruff Shampoo

The best way to get rid of dandruff is by using an anti dandruff shampoo. A dandruff shampoo that contains Pyrithione zinc is best for eliminating the flaking associated with dandruff. 

Pyrithione zinc has been proven effective in managing Malassezia yeast and dandruff on the scalp.

  • For severe cases of dandruff, use the shampoo daily.
  • Meanwhile, for milder cases of dandruff, use the shampoo 2 to 3 times a week.

When To Consult The Doctor?

If the flaking and scaling related to cradle cap or dandruff do not get better with the use of a medicated shampoo or gets worse, then it is best to consult a doctor. They may prescribe over-the-counter medications to help you relieve the symptoms.

If your baby is experiencing fever or is getting fussy and irritated due to their cradle cap then consult a pediatrician. Your baby may be experiencing a different similar skin condition. With that said– eczema and psoriasis are rare on an infant’s scalp. 

Best Shampoo For Cradle Cap And Dandruff

Dr. Eddie’s Happy Cappy Medicated Shampoo and Body Wash is a shampoo for dandruff and seborrheic dermatitis that’s specifically made with 95% natural ingredients to be gentle enough for sensitive young skin. Featuring an active ingredient, FDA-approved pyrithione zinc, this shampoo fights flakes associated with dandruff. It also combines provitamin B5 and apple fruit extract to hydrate hair and skin, and licorice root to soothe redness.

When seeking relief from cradle cap or dandruff, it is advisable to find a cradle cap shampoo that avoids fragrance, dyes, parabens, and irritating cleansers known as sulfates. Dr. Eddie’s Happy Cappy Medicated Shampoo and Body Wash avoids all of these common skin irritants while soothing and smoothing your child’s skin.


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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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Are dandruff and cradle caps the same?

Even though dandruff is a mild form of seborrheic dermatitis, also known as cradle cap in babies, the symptoms of both conditions are different. Dandruff causes tiny white or gray scales on the scalp, while cradle cap causes yellow or brownish thick, crusty scales on the scalp.

Can dandruff and cradle cap be treated the same way?

Both skin conditions are caused by Malssezia yeast. This is why a medicated shampoo containing pyrithione zinc can treat dandruff and cradle caps. It should be used daily to fight flaking and scaling associated with these conditions.

Can cradle cap cause dandruff?

Dandruff is a mild form of cradle cap. Or it is another name for severe dandruff. So, both conditions belong to the same family yet have different symptoms.

What is worse, dandruff or seborrheic dermatitis?

Dandruff is a mild form of seborrheic dermatitis it causes itching and flaking. While seborrheic dermatitis is worse, it is a severe case of dandruff as it causes inflammation, and the flaking and scaling worsen.

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