Your baby's skin

When your baby is born the top layer of your baby's skin is very thin and delicate. Over the first four weeks, or longer for premature babies, your baby's skin matures and develops its own natural protective barrier.

Vernix

Babyes are born with a white sticky substance that covers your baby's skin while in the womb. This is called vernix. It should always be left on the skin. It's a natural moisturiser that also protects against infection in the first few days.

If your baby is overdue, their skin may be dry and cracked. This is because the natural moisturiser, vernix, has been absorbed before they were born.

Plain water baths are best

It's best to bath your baby with plain water only for at least the first month. Do not add cleansers to your baby's bath water or use skin lotions or medicated wipes.

Cradle cap

Cradle cap is a common skin condition in babies which appears in the first six weeks of life and is thought to develop because babies produce more oil (sebum) from the sebaceous glands in their skin. Cradle cap is sometimes called ‘infantile seborrhoeic dermatitis’.

  • Many babies have mild cradle cap, which usually disappears after a few months, but for some babies it can take up to 6-9 months to clear.
  • Cradle cap isn’t contagious and it can’t be prevented from developing.
  • Cradle cap appears as greasy, yellow/brown, scaly patches on the scalp. Some babies have a thick, scaly layer covering the whole scalp. Over time these scales may become flaky and rub off easily
  • Sometimes, when these greasy scales lift off, hair may come out with them, but don’t worry, your baby’s hair will soon grow back
  • Cradle cap is not usually itchy, sore or uncomfortable so your baby should feed, play and sleep normally

  • Your baby’s cradle cap should settle by itself, but you can wash their hair with baby shampoo and gently brush hair with a soft brush to loosen scales
  • Whilst it might be tempting to pick the scales off you must not do this as you could cause an infection on your baby’s scalp
  • If the scales need softening, massage baby oil, vegetable oil or a greasy emollient such as white petroleum jelly (such as Vaseline) into your baby’s scalp and leave overnight. Next morning use a soft brush or cloth to gently remove any loose scales and then wash your baby’s hair with baby shampoo
  • Sometimes the cradle cap and a rash can spread onto other areas such as eyebrows, back of neck and even around the nappy area. If you are concerned or it looks infected then contact your health visitor for further advice

We don’t recommend using specific cradle cap shampoos as they are expensive and not as effective. Olive oil used to be recommended, but there is evidence to say it is not always suitable for babies’ delicate skin.

More information can be found on the NHS cradle cap page.