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Toddler Cradle Cap: What Every Parent Should Know

Toddler Cradle Cap: What Every Parent Should Know

Welcome to the world of parenting, where every day brings a new adventure. You’re brushing your toddler’s hair when you notice crusty, flaky, yellow scales on their scalp resembling dandruff.

You reach out to your mom friends, who tell you it’s cradle cap. But wait, isn’t cradle cap supposed to occur in babies under 12 months of age? You turn to the internet and discover that’s not true. 1 in 3 children under the age of 5 experience it, specifically known as ‘Toddler Cradle Cap.’

Now that you know that cradle cap in toddlers is normal. The next question on your mind will be, “What to do with it? In this blog, we will dig into the nitty-gritty of toddler cradle cap. Shedding light on what it is and how to manage it. You’ll discover the tips and tricks to keeping your child’s scalp healthy. So fasten your seatbelts and prepare to discover the world of toddler cradle cap.

What is Cradle Cap?

Infantile seborrheic dermatitis, commonly known as cradle cap, is a skin condition that affects babies and toddlers. No matter what you call it, be it cradle cap, seborrheic dermatitis, pityriasis capitis, crib cap, milk crust, or dandruff, it affects nearly half of all children under the age of six. Cradle cap can cause thick, crusty, yellowish scales or patches on the scalp. The color of the patches can range from white to yellow to brown, depending on the child’s skin color.

Cradle cap typically appears on the scalp. However, it can also emerge on the face, neck, diaper area, or skin folds. Don’t worry. It isn’t harmful or contagious but sometimes can cause itching when behind the ears. With time, patience, and proper care, you can regain your child’s healthy and clear scalp.

Can Toddlers Get Cradle Cap?

There is a common myth about cradle cap. It is often believed that cradle cap can only affect babies under the age of 12 months and usually disappears on its own within a few weeks or months. But the truth is anyone can have cradle cap–toddlers, teenagers, and adults.

When a child beyond infancy develops cradle cap, it is known as a toddler cradle cap. While in older individuals, it is commonly referred to as Seborrheic dermatitis.

It may be that the cradle cap will disappear on its own, or it may persist. If your child had cradle cap as a baby, and it persists into toddlerhood, it may be because the overactive sebaceous glands are still producing too much oil.

Effective treatment can provide relief from scaly patches. It’s important to know that cradle cap can come and go throughout life with flare ups. Use a cradle cap shampoo reduce the likelihood of its recurrence.

What Causes Cradle Cap in Toddlers?

The exact cause of cradle cap isn’t known, but medical experts believe it may be due to a combination of factors. Let’s start with overactive sebaceous glands. These glands are present in the skin and produce sebum, an oily substance that moisturizes the skin. When these glands produce excess sebum, it is consumed by yeast which is naturally present on the skin. This produces an irritating byproduct that causes flaking and skin irritation and disrupts the natural skin barrier, causing dryness and irritation.

Diving a bit deeper, the presence and growth of certain types of fungi on the skin surface is normal and is called fungal colonization of the skin. The most common fungus, also referred to as a yeast, that is thought to contribute is one by the name of Malassezia. When it becomes overly prevalent, it disturbs the skin’s normal balance and leads to an inflammatory reaction.

Elevated fatty acids are also considered to be a cause of cradle cap. Fatty acids are essential components of the skin’s lubricating oil–called sebum. An imbalance in their production or metabolism can occur. The accumulation of fatty acids on the skin surface creates an environment favorable for the overgrowth of Malassezia. The ensuing inflammation causes a breakdown of the outermost layers of the skin, and the visual manifestation of this is flaking and scales.

These factors are often interconnected, with one factor influencing the others. You can’t control or prevent the causes of cradle cap. However, with the help of the right products, you can improve the appearance of the affected skin and provide relief for your child. Products with pyrithione zinc can break this cycle leading to the reduction and prevention of scales.

What Does Cradle Cap Look Like?

The most common symptoms of toddler cradle cap are

  • Thick, greasy, yellow, or brown patches on the scalp and flakes on the eyebrows, eyelids, or forehead.
  • Redness and inflammation can be seen behind the ears, in the armpits, and in the diaper area.
  • Mild itching or discomfort.

You may notice thick yellow, white, or brown patches, which vary according to the baby’s skin color on the scalp. The yellowish-brown crust may also form on a child’s eyebrows. The symptoms may vary depending on the severity of the conditions.

The scales look similar on all skin tones. But the skin under the scales may look pink or red if your baby has a lighter skin tone and darker than the surrounding skin if your baby has a darker skin tone.

The symptoms of cradle cap can be similar to those of other skin conditions like eczema, so you may be unable to diagnose it on your own. If you’re unsure of the diagnosis or the condition worsens, it is a good idea to consult a healthcare professional for a proper evaluation and treatment plan.

Cradle Cap Treatment

Typically, cradle cap is harmless and can be easily managed with proper care and the right products. Here are a few things you can do for the relief of redness, scaling, and flaking on toddlers:


The best way to manage cradle cap is by keeping your child’s scalp and skin clean. Washing your baby’s scalp daily with a mild baby shampoo that doesn’t contain harsh ingredients, is the key.

Look for products that are fragrance-free, paraben-free, dye-free, and non-irritating. Products like Dr. Eddie’s Happy Cappy Medicated Shampoo for cradle cap are a great option to choose from as these are suitable for sensitive skin and children of all ages. They can help you reduce flaking and scaling associated with cradle cap..

Seek Medical Assistance:

Mild cases of cradle cap are easily resolved with gentle care and regular washing as discussed above. Sometimes cradle cap persists and may not respond to a medicated shampoo alone. In this case, it would be essential to consult a healthcare provider who will properly diagnose the condition and recommend the most suitable treatment for toddler cradle cap. This may include topical steroids and corticosteroids that reduce itching and inflammation and promote healing.

The Don’ts of Toddler Cradle Cap

Now that you’ve discovered the best possible ways to relieve cradle cap, let’s look at a list of things you should never do to a child with a cradle cap. There are many cradle cap remedies on the internet, but some junk remedies can worsen your child’s skin condition.

  • Don’t use olive oil, peanut oil, or petroleum jelly to remove the scales.
  • Don’t use adult anti-dandruff shampoos–they oftentimes have harsh ingredients
  • Don’t pick or scratch scales, as this can enhance the chances of infection.
  • Don’t bathe or wash the child’s scalp more than once daily, as it can cause dryness.
  • Don’t use any medical ointment without consulting the doctor.


In summary, toddler cradle cap is a common skin condition in young children. It affects 1 in 3 children under 5 years. Cradle cap may develop in infancy, persist through toddlerhood and even affect adults as seborrheic dermatitis. It is believed to be caused by overactive sebaceous glands, elevated fatty acids, and fungal colonization of skin.

Proper care and treatment, such as gentle washing with cradle cap shampoo, can help effectively manage the condition. Avoid using adult anti-dandruff shampoo and essential oils to remove scales. If you are unsure or the condition worsens, it’s best to consult a doctor.

Dr. Eddie’s Happy Cappy Medicated Shampoo and Body Wash, known as “A Pediatrician’s Solution,” fights flaking, redness, itching, scaling, and irritation on the scalp and skin for children of all ages. These bothersome symptoms are known as dandruff and seborrheic dermatitis.

It contains 95% natural, plant-based ingredients and is infused with redness-soothing and skin-moisturizing ingredients specially formulated to soothe the scalp of toddlers.


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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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Is Toddler Cradle Cap Contagious?

No, toddler cradle cap is not contagious. It occurs due to the overproduction of oil in the sebaceous glands and not due to any infection that can be transmitted to others.

Is Cradle Cap Common in Toddlers?

Cradle cap is relatively common in toddlers and babies. 1 in 3 children under 5 years experiences cradle cap. However, the severity and duration may vary for each child.

Does Cradle Cap Cause Discomfort or Itchiness in Toddlers?

In most cases, the cradle cap is not bothersome. However, in some cases, it may cause mild discomfort and itchiness to the toddler. Depending on the severity of the condition.

Should I Pick at the Flakes of Cradle Cap?

You should never pick at the flakes as they cause irritation and possibly lead to infection.

When Should I Consult a Doctor for My Toddler's Cradle Cap?

Cradle cap usually isn’t severe, but if the condition spreads to other body areas or becomes significantly red, inflamed, or starts oozing fluids. Then it is advised to consult a doctor immediately.

Can Cradle Cap Be Prevented?

As the causes of cradle cap are not in your control, it is difficult to prevent it. But some suggestions to minimize its recurrence are: gently washing the baby’s scalp regularly with a mild baby shampoo, avoiding using harsh products, keeping the skin moisturized, and gently brushing the scalp to remove excess scales.

Can Cradle Cap Recur After It Clears Up?

Yes, the cradle cap can sometimes recur even after it has cleared up. The overactive sebaceous glands might still produce excess oil and cause flare-ups. You may consult your doctor and continue the treatment that was effective the first time.

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