21 March 2003
Cradle cap and seborrhoeic dermatitis are so 'ridiculously common' in infants and pre-schoolers that they constitute 'a public health problem', a leading dermatologist says.
Dr Peter Foley, a visiting dermatologist at Melbourne's St Vincent's Hospital and senior lecturer in the University of Melbourne's department of medicine, was commenting after a study he led documented the prevalence of cradle cap and seborrhoeic dermatitis in Australian children.
(Seborrhoeic dermatitis is an inflammatory skin rash that results when the sebaceous (oil producing) glands in the skin are overactive. Cradle cap is a form of seborrhoeic dermatitis of the scalp in infants characterised by dry, flaky skin, which may be reddened.)
The study looked at 1116 newborn to 5-year-old children, and found 42 per cent had cradle cap and 10 per cent had seborrhoeic dermatitis.
Both conditions were mild in most cases (Archives of Dermatology 2003; 139: 318-22).
Cradle cap persisted to age 5 years in 40 per cent of those affected, but parents should not worry as it would eventually disappear, Dr Foley said.
Hydrocortisone can be used if the scalp becomes inflamed, he said. If the scales were thick, GPs could prescribe salicylic acid 2 to 5 per cent — depending on the age of the child — in aqueous cream. Carers should massage the cream in, leave in for an hour, then wash out.
Seborrhoeic dermatitis was most common in the first 3 months of life, decreasing to less than 1 per cent of 4-year-olds affected, said Dr Foley.
Childhood seborrhoeic dermatitis did not seem to indicate whether the child will have eczema, psoriasis, or seborrhoeic dermatitis as an adult.
'In most cases, really simple things like careful drying, avoiding soap on the skin, and using moisturiser ... are all that's needed,' Dr Foley said.
Otherwise, hydrocortisone and occasionally an antifungal agent could be used.
'The reason that we say [cradle cap and seborrhoeic dermatitis are] a public health problem is that they are a nuisance,' Dr Foley said.
'Most children don't need any medical intervention. Parents need education and simple measures as a way of preventing them.'
Last Reviewed: 24 March 2003