Cradle Cap (seborrheic dermatitis) is a common, chronic inflammatory skin disorder that can cause yellow, crusty, greasy scaling. Symptoms generally occur in areas where sebaceous (oil) glands are most prominent. In infants, the condition is known as ‘cradle cap’, as it is mostly confined to the scalp. The condition is not harmful or contagious, but it can be uncomfortable and unsightly.

Useful Facts

  • You’re not alone.  Seborrheic dermatitis (commonly known as ‘cradle cap’ in infants) is a condition reported to affect about 4% of the population. Dandruff (mild seborrhoeic dermatitis of the scalp) can affect almost half of all adults. It can start at any time after puberty and is slightly more common in men.
  • Babies can also develop a short-lived type of seborrhoeic dermatitis of the scalp (cradle cap) and nappy area, which usually clears up after a few months. It’s the most common skin problem in children after eczema.
  • Cradle Cap may be the most common skin condition to occur at the same time as rosacea. Although the two disorders are unrelated, a recent clinical study found that 26% of patients with rosacea also had facial seborrheic dermatitis, and 28% had seborrheic dermatitis of the scalp.

What causes cradle cap (seborrheic dermatitis)?

Although the cause is unknown, several factors may play a role in causing cradle cap (or seborrheic dermatitis in infants): abnormality of the oil glands and hair follicles, a yeast fungus with bacteria growing in the sebum, production of certain hormones, stress, change of seasons (outbreaks seem worse in winter) and fatigue. There is a known relationship with skin yeasts of Malassezia spp. This is thought to be due to a reaction to the yeast, rather than a simple infection. Overactivity in the sebaceous glands of a newborn may also be a factor.

Will my infant grow out of cradle cap?

Seborrhoeic Dermatitis in infants is very common and may need to be brought to the attention of the health visitor or GP.

In the majority of cases it is a benign, self-limiting condition, which usually clears up spontaneously during the first 6-12 months of life, however, it can occasionally be particularly troublesome and require treatment.

What triggers it?

It is thought that Cradle Cap is triggered by an overproduction of a harmless type of yeast called malassezia that lives on the skin, or an overreaction to this yeast by the skin’s immune system. These are not the same as the yeasts that cause thrush or those that are present in foods.

Cradle Cap is not usually linked to any underlying illness, but it can be stubborn and severe in some adults.

Tiredness and stress can sometimes trigger a flare-up it is more common in cold weather than in warm and is not related to diet.

Signs and symptoms?

The condition is easily recognisable in children and usually appears in the first few weeks of life. Symptoms will typically present as greasy, yellow scaling patches that may eventually form a thick, scaly layer on the skin. The condition is not usually itchy and the child is not distressed by it. There may be the loss of small amounts of hair in the area of scalp affected. The condition occurs predominantly on the scalp and upper face and can be somewhat unsightly, which may cause some concern for parents. It may also occur behind the ears, in the creases of the neck, axillae, and groins.

There may be some areas of redness around the plaques. It tends to be very scaly on the scalp, whereas it may be more erythematous in nature in the flexural areas.

Scaling and redness are the two dominant characteristics of seborrheic dermatitis. In adults, it can present as powdery or greasy scales on the face and other parts of the body and may also cause a burning sensation. If it develops on the scalp, symptoms range from a mild case of dandruff to thickened, scaling patches and sufferers may experience an itching sensation. The symptoms seem to vary from person to person.

Affected areas can be itchy, sore and sensitive, while the flaking skin can be bothersome and embarrassing, particularly with dark clothing. Some people simply develop the rash without discomfort.

What does it look like?

Affected areas are red with greasy looking skin flakes. It usually affects just one or two body areas, but sometimes can be more widespread.  The most commonly affected sites are:

On the scalp: seborrhoeic dermatitis here ranges from mild flaky skin (dandruff) to a redder, scalier and sometimes weeping rash.

On the face: it often affects the inner eyebrows and creases around the nose and cheeks. The eyelids may also become red, swollen and flaky (seborrhoeic blepharitis).

In and around the ears: some people have inflammation inside the ear canals, in the cup of the ear and behind the ears. The skin can become infected with a bacteria, causing oozing and crusting. Inflammation in the ear canal (otitis externa) can cause it to become blocked.

On the front of the chest and between the shoulder blades: it presents as well-defined, round, pink-red patches with mild scaling.

In the skin folds: it often affects moist areas such as the skin under the breasts, in the groin, under the arms, or in folds of skin on the abdomen. The skin is pink and shiny with surface cracks.

In darker skin: affected areas may look lighter (hypopigmented) or darker (hyperpigmented) than the surrounding skin.

What can I do, now and in the future?

Try simple measures first, such as regular washing of the scalp with an anti-fungal shampoo, followed by brushing with a soft brush to loosen any scaling.

Prior to shampooing, the crusts can be soaked overnight with white petroleum jelly or warmed vegetable/olive oil. Please note that the use of almond oil might trigger a reaction in any infants with a nut allergy. If you would prefer not to shampoo your infant’s scalp every day, an emollient or thick moisturiser, like our Body Lotion, may also be helpful to reduce any scaling and redness of the skin. Of course, with any new cream, we recommend that you test an area of skin first (on an arm or a leg) and leave for 24 hours to check that there will be no unknown reactions to any ingredient. You can read how to do this here.

Can Seborrheic Dermatitis (Cradle Cap) be cured?

Unfortunately, there is no cure for seborrheic dermatitis, but there are plenty of ways you can control its signs and symptoms. Treatment depends on your skin type, the severity of the condition and the part of your body where the condition occurs.

Treatment on the face and body may include medications such as antifungal preparations that reduce inflammation and the build-up of scaling on the skin.  Treatment of seborrheic dermatitis of the scalp may include medicated anti-dandruff shampoos. Treatment can improve and sometimes even clear the symptoms of seborrhoeic dermatitis in adults, but there is no permanent cure and the complaint tends to come back when treatment is stopped.

Our Manuka Biotic Recommendations

Our natural formula is designed to help combat irritation and sensitive scalp conditions through the potent healing properties of Manuka Oil, together with the moisturising and strengthening properties of Pro-Vitamin B5 and Moroccan Argan Oil. Our Manuka Biotic Shampoo and Conditioner is our top seller because it moisturises even the driest of scalps, creates an effective barrier, reduces inflammation, and fights bacteria. It is excellent for healing and soothing irritated scalps.

Massaging the scalp at night with our Body Lotion, followed by washing the hair and scalp next morning and lifting the crusts with a soft brush, will help keep the scalp moisturised and assist in reducing any irritation and redness.

Massaging the scalp at night with our Body Lotion, followed by washing the hair and scalp next morning and lifting the crusts with a soft brush, will help keep the scalp moisturised and assist in reducing any irritation and redness.


Why Manuka Biotic®?

  1. We use the worlds only certified organic Manuka oil.
  2. All our products contain potent antibacterial, anti-fungal, anti-inflammatory properties to help soothe and repair the skin.
  3. Our products are 100% New Zealand made.
  4. Our products are made using natural ingredients and are FREE from:
    • Parabens
    • Sodium Lauryl Sulfate & SLES
    • PEGs, PABA, EDTA
    • Added fragrances & colouring
    • Petrochemicals
    • Mineral Oils
    • Phenoxyethanol
    • Propylene Glycol
    • Phthalates
    • Animal testing or animal derivatives

Manuka Biotic® is natural skincare for the whole family, giving you access to the potent power of Manuka Oil.

Please read the full ingredient list for any known irritants or allergies. We advise trying new products on a small patch of skin and waiting 24 hours to make sure there is no reaction. Any natural product on the market could contain an ingredient that won’t agree with your skin. You can read how to do this here.

Read Our Manuka Mum’s Experiences

Hear directly from a few of our lovely Manuka Mum’s sharing their experiences of using our products on their little one’s Cradle Cap. Click on the name below to see their story.

  1. Ari
  2. Gelyn
  3. Anna

Want to know more?

There’s a lot you can do to relieve symptoms if your cradle cap (seborrheic dermatitis) gets worse.  Check out the following websites for further information or join our private Facebook support group on how you can treat and prevent the condition. Remember, your health provider will be able to treat you with assessing and treating your symptoms.

New Zealand Eczema Association New Zealand

This organisation has an excellent website, with great forums, blogs, education and a support line you can call to help improve the lives of those people living with dermatitis, eczema, psoriasis and a variety of other skin conditions.

Australia Eczema Association Australasia

The leading professional organisation in Australasia providing support for people living with a variety of skin conditions, including dermatitis, eczema, psoriasis, and rosacea.

United Kingdom The National Eczema Society

Dedicated to the needs of people with eczema, dermatitis and sensitive skin, the organisation is an excellent source of support and information.

For further information talk to your doctor.

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