Why Is My Baby’s Scalp Scaly and Red?

If your baby’s scalp is red and scaly with flaking skin, it’s likely a common condition known as cradle cap. Not to worry, this condition is painless and not contagious. There is even more good news: Cradle cap typically vanishes within a few weeks or months without leaving any scars.

The red, flaky rash can show up in other places than your baby’s scalp. It can spread to his neck creases, behind his ears, and/or on his armpit skin. In those cases, the painless rash is referred to as seborrheic dermatitis.

Cradle cap is basically the result of your infant’s body overproducing oil. It often appears in the first month of life, and disappears either on its own or with the help of gentle creams or lotions.

You can remove the flakes from your baby’s skin by softly brushing his scalp. Apply a drop or two of mineral oil to his scalp, wait a few minutes for it to soak in, and then gently brush your baby’s scalp to help loosen the skin flakes. Just be sure to brush after applying the oil, since using mineral oil alone could actually allow the scales to build up on your baby’s scalp. You can also help the condition by washing your baby’s scalp more often than usual with a mild baby shampoo.

If the cradle cap persists or worsens, contact your pediatrician and ask whether prescription cortisone creams or lotions (such as a 1 percent hydrocortisone cream) may speed the rash’s disappearing act.