Cradle cap

Can 3 year olds get cradle cap? What you should know

Only babies get cradle cap? I was under this impression too. I mean it just sounds like it should be the case. The clue is in the name, right? Well, after some thorough research, as with many things you can’t always take names at face value.

Yes, 3 year olds can get cradle cap. Although it is usually thought to be and generally referred to as dandruff in older children. Cradle cap is just a common name for a dermatological condition. It’s thought to be a type of “seborrhoeic dermatitis”, although doctors aren’t entirely sure of its causes. It’s basically the babies version of dandruff. It is common in babies but can still be found in children at the age of 3. (This medical information was reviewed by a registered nurse).

So I’m guessing that now you have felt the relief of finding out that cradle cap in your 3 year old is common, I’m here to tell you I’ve done all the research for myself about what causes it and how I could tackle it myself before I personally felt I needed the help of a doctor. If you are at all worried, you should make an appointment with the doctor. I have collected all the information I found out about this condition after hours of research and put it all in this post, so you don’t have to, so read on.


It usually starts when you notice rough and scaly patches on your child’s head, they seem to just pop up out of nowhere. I was the same as any other parent and I started a mild panic. If I had known better then I wouldn’t have worried. Cradle cap isn’t generally a serious issue. Its relatively common and harmless. It gained its name because it is more common in babies than in our 3 year olds. The white scaly skin resembled a babies cap.

Cradle cap can appear in small patches or it can cover larger areas. It can present as a yellowish, patchy, crusty, greasy and scaly skin rash. The rash is most notable on the scalp, ear, eyebrows and eyelids. It can be easily confused with other mild dermatological conditions, so if in doubt consult your doctor. Most children develop the mild version of cradle cap, the severe condition is rare.

It’s nice to know that even though cradle cap can cause redness of the skin, it isn’t itchy for your child. Cradle cap can also make your child lose some hair, but don’t worry. This will grow back once it has cleared.


Luckily, cradle cap isn’t caused by anything as nasty as a bacterial infection, which can be a relief for worried parents when they first find it on their little ones. While we are at it, let’s dispel two more common myths.

  1. Cradle cap isn’t caused by an allergy
  2. Cradle cap isn’t caused by poor hygiene.

Those myths can play on your mind when you are planning to tackle your child’s cradle cap. Especially hygiene as no matter how many times we bath and wash our 3 year olds they still end up dirty within minutes. It’s also the favourite reason for most of your child’s issues (according to the local busy-body). Of course this isn’t true, its ignorance of the facts that lead to those conclusions.

It’s also important to note that cradle cap is not contagious. So you don’t have to separate them from siblings or seal off their rooms just yet!

Gentle Wash


Doctors aren’t in agreement about what causes cradle cap but there are a few ideas that have been put forward. The first and most commonly accepted idea is that it is overactive sebaceous glands on your child’s head. These glands secrete the natural oils that we all have on our skin to protect and waterproof it.

Other ideas include a fungal infection or the condition being linked to a Biotin insufficiency (Biotin is a B vitamin). Whatever the cause, you can rest assured that it can be dealt with quickly and easily. Read on to find out what I discovered about dealing with it.


This next fact should be a great relief to you,

cradle cap normally just goes away on its own after a couple of months.

We don’t have to wait for it to disappear. There are many things we can do to try and hurry up it’s departure. Let’s have a look at those now:

  1. Loosen the scales: Firstly, we can use a soft bristle brush and gently loosen some of the flakes on your 3 year old’s head.
  2. How many washes?: As much as it’s tempting to want to wash their hair more frequently when they have cradle cap. Unfortunately it won’t help the issue as it may increase the production of oils in the scalp and may make the problem worse. Try just once a day at first, as you need to find the right balance of oil for the skin to lose its irritation.
  3. Anti-dandruff shampoo: You could consider using an anti-dandruff shampoo. Please be careful if you do, some of them have harsh chemicals in and may not suit your child’s skin if it is sensitive. You could look for a children’s anti-dandruff shampoo.
  4. Be gentle: The skin on your child’s head is delicate, cradle cap can make it even more so. It can cause cracks in the surface of their skin and these could get infected. So please be gentle when removing them.


Not every parent wants to try the traditional chemical remedy for cradle cap. If you are looking for a more natural remedy to try then I have researched the following option for you to try:

  1. Find a plant-based oil of your choice and that suits their skin. Examples could be coconut oil or olive oil (other alternatives are available).
  2. Rub a small amount of the oil into their scalp gently with your fingers.
  3. Leave it on their scalp for around 15 minutes.
  4. Use a soft bristle brush to gently tease out the flakes.
  5. After brushing you should make sure to wash the oil out thoroughly as excess oil could make their cradle cap worse.


Firstly, if you are worried about your child’s cradle cap and you don’t feel like you can manage it yourself, then you should contact a medical professional. I would like to point out some warning signs for you to look out for and that should prompt you to contact a professional.

  • Scaly skin is thickening
  • Redness
  • Irritation
  • Rash spreads to other body parts

If your child has broken skin from the cradle cap then this could lead to bacteria infecting those areas of the skin. Basically, if the condition starts to worsen for your child then you need to seek medical attention as it could be a different medical issue.


The answer to this is definitely no, unless it’s just for a change in hairstyle. It won’t help and will probably be reasonably traumatic and over the top for the little one. The ways to deal with cradle cap, as listed above, are by far the best way to deal with this problem.


Eczema or Atopic Dermatitis is a condition that may appear similar to cradle cap but there are some important distinctions between them. One of the main reasons for the confusion is of the similar appearance and the fact that it can affect the same areas as cradle cap.

Eczema is a more serious condition, if you think your child may have it then you should contact a medical professional. It is typical to have red, itchy and dry skin caused by eczema as it is an inflammatory condition. It’s most commonly found in children, which may be another reason for the confusion between the two conditions. Thankfully it is rarer than cradle cap as eczema has more consequences for your child. Around 1 in 10 people will develop eczema in their lifetime.


I hope this article and my research has helped to curb some of the fears you may have had at first about your child’s cradle cap. It’s scary when you suddenly notice your 3 year old has a rash of any kind. I know I didn’t really know anything about the condition before I did my research, I incorrectly assumed it was just something babies could suffer from.

I’m glad I did the research, because it hopefully has helped you and also because it is good to know the signs of the conditions that may be similar but may need more serious medical attention than cradle cap.