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Baby acne is a common, usually temporary skin condition that develops on a baby’s face or body. It results in tiny red or white bumps or pimples. In almost all cases, the acne resolves on its own without treatment.
Baby acne is also known as neonatal acne. It occurs in about 20 percent of newborns.
Baby acne is different from infantile acne in that open comedones, or blackheads, don’t usually appear in baby acne. These symptoms are common in infantile acne. Infantile acne may also appear as cysts or nodules. In rare cases, it can leave scars without treatment.
Baby acne only happens in your baby’s first few months of life. Infantile acne can last until your child is 2 years old. Infantile acne is much less common than baby acne.
It’s unclear why baby acne develops. Some researchers believe it’s caused by maternal or infant hormones.
Like acne in adolescents and adults, baby acne usually appears as red bumps or pimples. White pustules or whiteheads may also develop, and reddish skin may surround the bumps.
Babies can develop acne anywhere on their face, but it’s most common on their cheeks. Some babies may also have acne on their upper back or neck.
Acne may become more pronounced if your baby is fussy or crying. Rough fabrics can irritate the acne, as can vomit or saliva that stays on the face.
Baby acne may occasionally be present at birth. But, in most cases it develops within two to four weeks after birth. And it may last for a few days or weeks, though some cases may last for several months.
Similar conditions include eczema, erythema toxicum, and milia.
Eczema usually shows up as red bumps on the face. It may also appear on knees and elbows as your baby gets older. Eczema can become infected and appear yellow and crusty. It may worsen as your baby starts to crawl around and scrape up their knees and elbows. It is usually easy for your doctor to distinguish between baby acne and eczema.
The most common type of eczema is known as atopic dermatitis.
Seborrheic eczema is the condition most often misidentified as baby acne. It’s also known as seborrheic dermatitis and crib, or cradle, cap.
Eczema can be treated with over-the-counter (OTC) products such as Aquaphor and Vanicream. A mild medication may also be prescribed.
You may also be asked to remove food allergens from your home and give your baby daily probiotics.
Erythema toxicum is another common skin condition that may appear as a rash, tiny bumps, or red blotches. It can be seen on your baby’s face, chest, or limbs in the first few days after they’re born.
It’s harmless, and it usually disappears in less than a week after birth.
Milia are tiny white bumps that may develop on your baby’s face. They occur when dead skin cells are caught in tiny pockets of skin and may appear within a few weeks of birth.
Milia are unrelated to baby acne and don’t require treatment.
Baby acne usually disappears without treatment.
Some babies have acne that lingers for months instead of weeks. To treat this stubborn form of baby acne, your baby’s pediatrician may prescribe a medicated cream or ointment that helps clear up the acne.
Don’t use OTC acne treatments, face washes, or lotions. Your baby’s skin is very sensitive at this young age. You might make the acne worse or cause additional skin irritation by using something that’s too strong.
While you wait for your baby’s acne to clear, there are things you can do to help keep the skin as healthy as possible.
1. Keep your baby’s face clean
Wash your baby’s face daily with warm water. Bath time is a great time to do this. You don’t even need to use anything but water, but if you want to, look for a mild soap or soap-free cleanser. Don’t hesitate to ask the pediatrician for recommendations.
Fragrance-free products are least likely to irritate your baby’s skin.
2. Avoid harsh products
Products with retinoids, which are related to vitamin A, or erythromycin, are commonly used for adult acne. However, they aren’t usually recommended for babies.
Don’t use any scented soaps, bubble bath, or other types of soaps that contain excessive chemicals.
3. Skip the lotions
Lotions and creams may aggravate your baby’s skin and make the acne worse.
4. Don’t scrub
Scrubbing the skin with a towel can further aggravate the skin. Instead, gently sweep a washcloth over the face in circular motions.
Once the cleanser is washed off, use a towel to pat your baby’s face dry.
5. Don’t squeeze
Avoid pinching or squeezing the acne. This will irritate your baby’s skin and may worsen the problem.
6. Be patient
Baby acne is typically harmless. It is not itchy or painful for your baby. It should quickly resolve on its own.
There’s no treatment for baby acne, but you should still consult the pediatrician if you’re worried about it. A well-baby visit or general checkup is a great time to ask questions about baby acne, and discuss any other concerns you may have about your baby’s health.
See a doctor right away if your baby’s acne results in blackheads, pus-filled bumps, or inflammation. Pain or discomfort should also prompt a visit to the doctor.
If your baby’s acne doesn’t clear up after several months of home treatment, the doctor may recommend using a 2.5 percent benzoyl peroxide lotion.
In rare cases, they may also prescribe an antibiotic, such as erythromycin or isotretinoin, so that your baby doesn’t have permanent scars. For babies, this is usually only necessary for severe acne caused by an underlying medical condition.
Baby acne itself does not recur, but it would be good to note that if your child gets acne again before puberty, they should see their doctor as this could be a sign of an underlying problem.
Certain rare conditions may be causing the acne not to respond to home treatment. These conditions include tumors, the adrenal disorder congenital adrenal hyperplasia (CAH), and other conditions related to the endocrine system.
If you have a baby girl who starts to show signs of hyperandrogenism, ask the doctor to check for underlying issues. Symptoms may include an overgrowth of facial hair or unusually oily skin.