Cradle Cap and Diaper Rash: Understanding and Treating Common Infant Skin Conditions   

Cradle Cap and Diaper Rash: Understanding and Treating Common Infant Skin Conditions

Young baby being held by his mother.
Clinical Contributors to this story:
Shilpa Patel, M.D.

It’s normal for babies to experience common skin irritations during their first few months. Cradle cap and diaper rash are two issues that affect many babies.

These common problems impact the skin in two very different regions. Cradle cap causes scaliness atop the head, while diaper rash irritates a baby’s bottom.

“Dealing with diaper rash is almost a rite of passage for new parents,” says pediatrician Shilpa Patel, M.D. “Cradle cap also occurs frequently among infants.”

Read on to learn more about cradle cap and diaper rash, including effective treatments.

Signs of Cradle Cap

Some babies develop yellow scales or redness on their scalp, seemingly for no reason. Experts don’t know the cause, but over-productive oil glands may contribute to the condition.

When the scaliness only appears on a baby’s scalp, it’s known as cradle cap. If scales appear on the face, bottom or elsewhere, it’s known as seborrheic dermatitis.

Sometimes, cradle cap begins on the scalp and spreads to other areas, including:

  • The forehead
  • The eyebrows
  • The eyelids
  • The folds in the neck
  • Behind the ears
  • The armpits
  • The torso
  • The diaper region

Cradle cap is not an infection or an indication of an allergy. It isn’t contagious, and it’s not a sign of poor hygiene.

Your baby probably won’t notice it if they have cradle cap. It typically doesn’t itch, burn or cause any discomfort.

Some health conditions may increase a baby’s risk of getting cradle cap. It’s associated with eczema and asthma.

Pediatricians can easily diagnose cradle cap by looking at your baby’s scalp. No testing is needed to confirm its presence.

How to Treat Cradle Cap

Parents who see scalp flakes may think that they should leave them alone. But the opposite is true; your baby’s doctor should recommend active treatment.

a fine tooth comb and gently back comb to get off the scales after use warm oil to the scalp that was massaged in. I say wash the hair after that. 

Try these treatments:

  • First, use warm baby oil on the scalp and massage it in, letting it sit for an hour or two. “Make sure the oil is not too hot,” says Dr. Patel. “I usually recommend opening the cap and placing it in a bowl of hot water for about 30 seconds.”
  • Then use a fine tooth comb and gently comb back the hair to try to loosen scales.
  • Then wash the hair with a gentle baby shampoo. Massaging the scalp may also loosen the scales.
  • Don’t pick at your baby’s scales. Your baby’s scalp may bleed, and you may cause an infection.

If the cradle cap doesn’t improve, see your pediatrician for further advice. Most babies with cradle cap outgrow the condition by their first birthday.

Signs of Diaper Rash

When babies wear dirty diapers, pee and poop can irritate their sensitive skin.

Other causes of diaper rash include:

  • A yeast infection, which may pass through the digestive system
  • Sensitivity to a newly introduced food, like citrus or other acidic foods
  • Sensitivity to dyes or other chemicals used to manufacture diapers
  • Sensitivity to chemicals in diaper wipes
  • Bacterial infections
  • Antibiotics
  • Seborrheic dermatitis (cradle cap that appears elsewhere)

Diaper rash may cause red, raw, painful skin. Babies may cry when you change their diapers, because you’re touching their sore skin.

A diaper rash may look like:

  • Red splotches on skin inside the diaper (buttocks, genitals, upper thighs)
  • Inflammation of diaper-area skin
  • Scaly or peeling skin
  • Raised red bumps, pimples or pus-filled sores 

How to Treat Diaper Rash

There are a number of ways to improve your baby’s diaper rash:

  • Change diapers frequently. You’ll shorten the length of time that pee and poop touch the skin.
  • Use fragrance-free, alcohol-free wipes or just warm water and a soft cloth.
  • Be gentle when cleaning your baby’s bottom; pat, don’t rub.
  • Let your baby’s bottom air-dry before closing the diaper.
  • Soothe your baby’s skin in a daily bath; air-dry afterwards.
  • Consider sitting your baby in an oatmeal bath to reduce inflammation; air-dry after.
  • Gently slather barrier cream onto your baby’s diaper-area skin before closing the diaper. Good options include:
    • Zinc oxide
    • Petroleum jelly
  • Close the diaper securely but not too tightly, which may contribute to diaper rash.
  • Switch to a different diaper brand, to see if diaper sensitivity was the problem.
  • Choose highly absorbent (disposable) diapers, which keep the skin drier.
  • Stop offering acidic foods while your baby has a rash.

Next Steps & Resources:

The material provided through HealthU is intended to be used as general information only and should not replace the advice of your physician. Always consult your physician for individual care.


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