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Infantile Seborrhoeic Dermatitis

Infantile seborrhoeic dermatitis will usually clear up on its own within weeks to a few months. For those infants for whom the condition persists, however, there are some simple treatment measures.

Infantile seborrhoeic dermatitis other than cradle cap

Before treating your baby’s skin, see your health visitor or GP, particularly if your baby has any symptoms other than those due to seborrhoeic dermatitis. Although this type of eczema usually clears up on its own within a few months,  you might like to try some of the following suggestions in the meantime:

  • Bathe your baby each day, adding an emollient bath oil to the water, or use an emollient soap to loosen the scales.
  • Moisturise the skin with a leave-on emollient to help prevent further skin flaking and infection. Use a non-cosmetic moisturiser (i.e. an emollient medical moisturiser available on prescription), rather than commercial baby products (including those described as ‘natural’ or for sensitive skin), which may contain fragrance and other ingredients that can irritate the skin.  
  • Avoid using soap or baby wipes – use an emollient soap substitute (or wash your baby using cotton wool and their regular leave-on emollient) instead.
  • Keep the nappy area clean and dry. Check nappies frequently while the skin is sore and change as soon as they become wet or soiled.
  • At each nappy change, apply a water-repellent emollient to help protect the skin. Don’t use plastic pants over cloth nappies as these can make the problem worse. 

You can find out more about all types of emollients here.

If the skin looks sore, your doctor or health visitor may prescribe a mild topical steroid cream – apply it very thinly once or twice a day, as prescribed, only to the sore areas of skin. You will find more about topical steroids here

Mild infantile seborrhoeic dermatitis is unlikely to become infected if the skin remains intact. However, if the skin becomes sore and raw, especially in the nappy area, it may then become infected by a yeast called Candida.  Suspect infection and consult your GP if your baby’s skin feels hot, smells odd or weeps as anti yeast creams are available to treat this if your doctor thinks it is necessary.  

Cradle cap

If the cradle cap does not clear by itself within a few months, consult your health visitor or GP since the scale may be due to some other skin problem. If your baby is itchy or the cradle cap persists, it is more likely that your baby has developed childhood atopic eczema.

Cradle cap will clear of its own accord so there is no need to treat it, but the following suggestions may be helpful.

  • To remove crusts and excess scales use a mild baby shampoo and tepid water to wash the scalp daily, but do not rub vigorously. Gentle brushing with a soft brush will help to loosen the scales. If your baby has childhood atopic eczema, however, shampoo is not recommended for babies under one year.
  • Do not pick the scales as this may increase the risk of infection.
  • Soften the scales with emolient (medical moisturiser), unperfumed mineral oil or vegetable oil (e.g. coconut oil) over night. Olive oil is no longer recommended as it has been found to damage the skin barrier.
  • If the scales are not removed with the measures above, soften them with a more greasy emollient (e.g. white petroleum jelly) before washing your baby’s hair.

A factsheet on infantile seborrhoeic dermatitis and cradle cap by the National Eczema Society is available to download from the related documents to the right of this page.