Causes and treatment of baby acne
No one wants to see acne on their sweet newborn. We all expect babies to have flawless skin, but the reality is that baby acne happens to about 20-30% of infants.
While your newborn photo shoot might require some touch-ups, the good news is that baby acne doesn’t bother your baby and usually clears up on its own.
What is baby acne?
Baby acne looks like, well, acne! It may appear as red bumps or whiteheads with a red base, usually on the cheeks, nose, forehead, and even the neck or upper back. It’s most common between 2 weeks until 2 months of age.
Is it my fault?
No one knows for sure why babies develop baby acne. Some believe that it may be related to hormone exposure during pregnancy, or genetics may play a role.
What can I do?
While we don’t know for sure what causes baby acne, we do know that it is not dangerous and will clear up with time. While no medical treatment is needed for most cases, there are a few things you can do at home to help.
- Gently cleanse your baby’s skin daily with a very mild soap (or just a wet washcloth), rinse, and pat dry. Don’t scrub!
- Avoid harsh soaps or adult acne medications. These can irritate baby’s skin and make the acne look worse
- Avoid lotions or baby oil–these can clog your baby’s pores and make the problem worse.
- Avoid picking at the bumps or attempting to pop the whiteheads. This could lead to more irritation or even scarring.
- Be patient! In almost all cases it will get better in a month or two.
What if it’s not baby acne?
There are some skin conditions that can mimic baby acne. Here are some of the most common:
- Milia: These are tiny white bumps that tend to show up about the same time as baby acne. They’re caused by skin flakes getting trapped near the surface of the skin, usually on the nose, chin, or cheeks. These are also harmless and do not require any treatment.
- Erythema toxicum: This is a larger red area with overlying white or yellow bumps. It tends to appear in the first 1-2 weeks of life and goes away within a week or so without any treatment.
- Eczema: This is a red, scaly, bumpy rash that may appear flaky. It shows up on baby’s faces but can also be anywhere else on the body, especially on the knees and outside of elbows. It tends to be quite itchy.
- Heat rash: This is caused by blocked pores trapping sweat under the skin. It tends to happen in areas that get hot and sweaty, such as the neck, arm pits, and creases of elbows, knees, wrists, and feet.
- Cradle cap: The scalp is where you are most likely to find cradle cap, which looks like scaly or crusty patches. They tend to look greasy and might be white or yellow.
Do I need to see a doctor?
You don’t generally need to see a doctor, but if the bumps become very large or inflamed, if blackheads develop, or if there are other symptoms such as unusual hair growth or very oily skin, you might want to check with your pediatrician. If you think it might be baby acne, but are worried or stressed about it, it’s always okay to ask.
Where can I learn more?
Camber Hess is a Family Nurse Practitioner working at a family practice in Utah seeing all ages and treating a wide variety of conditions. She has 2 kids of her own, ages 3 and 4 months.