Childhood Diseases

Updated 17 March 2016

Causes of cradle cap

The causes of cradle cap are still a bit unclear, however it has been established that the causes are neither allergy, bacterial infection nor bad hygiene.

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The cause of cradle cap is still unknown, but experts believe that hormones produced by the mother and passed to her baby during childbirth may be involved.

When the rash occurs on the scalp alone, it is known as ‘cradle cap’. Once it has spread to other areas of the skin, face, down the back of the neck, nose, eyebrows, ears, the body and along skin folds, it is known as seborrhoeic dermatitis of infancy.

Infantile seborrhoeic dermatitis is a non-infectious rash, commonly occurring during the first weeks of life. It slowly clears up over a period of weeks or months as the mother’s hormones in the baby's body reduce and disappear.

Unlike eczema, it is unlikely to be itchy or uncomfortable. Seborrhoeic dermatitis of infancy usually clears up by the age of 6 months, but may last up to the age of two years in rare cases. The great majority of cases clear up spontaneously.

Read more:

What is cradle cap?

How to treat cradle cap

How cradle cap is diagnosed

Reviewed by Dr Rowan Dunkley, Paediatrician, Red Cross Children’s Hospital, Cape Town February 2015.

Previously reviewed by Prof Eugene Weinberg, Paediatrician, February 2011