Infantile seborrhoeic dermatitis (also called seborrhoeic eczema) is a common skin condition seen in infants under the age of one year. It usually appears quite suddenly between two weeks and six months after birth. It commonly affects the scalp when it is commonly called cradle cap, but the face, ears, neck, flexural folds (behind the knees, inside the elbows and armpits) and nappy area may also be affected.
On the scalp thick, yellow, waxy scales develop that stick to the hair and are difficult to remove (see below under cradle cap).
In the nappy area the baby’s bottom may look red, inflamed and flaky. There may be small, white skin scales that tend to rub off easily, especially if the nappy is tight, giving the skin a shiny appearance. The redness may extend into the skin folds at the tops of the legs, around the genitals and between the buttocks. It can then spread quite rapidly and widely.
On other areas of the body, such as the face, flexures and trunk, there may be small, dry, salmon-pink patches that join up to cover larger areas.
The exact cause of infantile seborrhoeic dermatitis is not known, but it is believed to be linked to developing sebaceous glands. A family history of eczema or other skin conditions does not seem to play a big part.
Infantile sebhorroeic dermatitis is not a serious condition and is not contagious. It is not usually itchy and looks far worse than it is, so your baby should feed, play and sleep as usual, without any problems. It will usually spontaneously resolve within weeks to a few months. For those infants for whom the condition does not resolve on its own, there are some simple treatment measures.
Cradle cap is the name generally used when a young infant has a thick, scurfy scalp. It usually occurs around birth or in the first couple of months of life and is not seen again after the first year. Cradle cap starts with the scalp becoming thickly coated with greasy yellowish scales that stick to the head, making it look crusted. The eyebrows may be scaly and the forehead, temples, neck fold and behind the ears can also be affected, especially if the condition starts later rather than a few weeks after birth. Cradle cap looks unsightly but is not itchy and causes no discomfort to your baby.
What to do next? Find out about treatment
You can find out about the range of treatment options for different types of eczema in our comprehensive Treatment area of the website. You can also find our more about infantile seborrhoeic dermatitis by downloading a pdf of our infantile seborrhoeic dermatitis fact sheet. You will find this under related documents to the right of this page