Seborrheic Dermatitis in Babies and Adults
Cradle Cap, the common name for Infant Seborrheic Dermatitis, is a buildup of sticky skin oils, scales and dead skin cells that form a thick layer of white or yellow crust on baby’s scull.
- Patchy scales or thick crusts on the scalp
- Greasy skin covered with flaky white or yellow scales
- Skin flakes accompanied by mild redness
It is not clear what causes cradle cap, however, conventional wisdom says that it is likely to be due to hormones that pass from mother to baby that can cause abnormal production of sebum in the oil glands and hair follicles, resulting in the build-up of waxy, scaly patches.
Cradle cap is not harmful – it will not bother baby and usually resolves itself within the first year. It does not itch or irritate in any way. If symptoms of itchiness are present, then it is not Cradle Cap, but could be Eczema. Read our article Eczema in Babies to learn more about the condition
How to Treat Cradle Cap
Cradle cap will resolve itself over time by flaking off to reveal healthy, clear skin. However, you can help speed the process by gently loosening and removing the scales – here’s how:
- 30-60 minutes before shampooing the scalp, apply baby oil, petroleum jelly or mineral oil to the crusty areas to help loosen the scales.
- Then wet the scalp and gently brush the scales with a soft toothbrush. This will remove the scales.
- Then wash the scalp with a gentle baby shampoo to removal all traces of the mineral oil – rinse well and pat dry.
- Once cleared, wash baby’s hair every few days to prevent future buildup of scales.
Severe or persistent cases of cradle cap should be treated with a medicated shampoo or lotion – however, in these cases, a doctor should prescribe treatment.
Cradle Cap in Adults – Called Seborrheic Dermatitis
Cradle cap in adults is called Seborrheic Dermatitis. It is also a common skin condition with similar signs and symptoms as cradle cap in babies, however, it can be difficult to treat in adults and does not usually resolve itself. Rather it can last a long time – if not a lifetime.
Symptoms of Seborrheic Dermatitis include:
- Flaking skin on the scalp, eyebrows, ears, face, chest, beard or mustache, armpits, scrotum
- Patches of greasy skin covered with white or yellow crusty scales
- Crusting or redness on eyelids
- Skin can be red, inflamed, itchy or sting
While seborrheic dermatitis is neither contagious, nor does it affect your overall health. It can, however, be an embarrassing condition that appears to be caused by poor personal hygiene. That is not true, poor hygiene is not a factor in the cause of Seborrheic Dermatitis.
Like Cradle Cap, the cause of Seborrheic Dermatitis is not clearly understood, but may primarily be related to malassezia (a yeast fungus) that is found in the sebum (oil) on the skin.
Treating and Managing Seborrheic Dermatitis
Most mild cases of seborrheic dermatitis can be managed with regular use of over-the-counter medicated shampoos that contain one or more of the following active ingredients:
Always leave the shampoo on the affected area for the full time recommended by the manufacturer to allow the ingredients to work. For symptoms that appear on other areas of the body (except the eyes) gently apply these shampoos to those areas for the recommended time, followed by a thorough rinsing.
Other Home Remedies
In addition to daily cleansing and skin care management, other self-care tips can help you control symptoms of seborrheic dermatitis:
- Wash skin and affected areas regularly
- Rinse soap completely from the skin to prevent further build-up
- Avoid products that contain alcohol – these tend to irritate the skin and cause flare ups
- Soften and remove scales from affected areas. Use mineral oil to soften the skin for an hour then use a soft brush to slough off scales with a soft brush. Shampoo thoroughly after to rinse all traces of oil from the skin.
- For those with a beard or mustache, the condition can be difficult to treat without timely, daily grooming. Consider shaving facial hair off until the condition is under control.
- If the eye lids are affected, use a baby shampoo to wash them (this will not irritate the eyes), then
gently wipe scales away with a cotton ball or swab.
For more severe cases of seborrheic dermatitis that are not helped by OTC products and home remedies, your doctor may prescribe:
- Antifungal shampoo and medication that is taken orally
- Prescription strength ointments that control inflammation
- Creams or gels containing metronidazole to fight bacteria and prevent future outbreaks
- Photochemotherapy – light therapy combined with psoralen either taken orally or applied to affected areas