“Toddler” and “acne” are two words that don’t seem to go together. Your little one already has enough on their plate with the “terrible twos” — acne doesn’t need to get thrown into that mix!
But like babies, toddlers can get skin bumps that look like very much like acne. In some cases, baby or infantile acne may even last into the toddler years, though this is uncommon.
Rarely, your little one may get a new bout of acne that’s different from baby acne. (And FYI: It’s also different from the teenage variety.)
Here’s what to look for and when to get treatment for toddler acne.
Like acne at any age, toddler acne can cause a number of symptoms. Your toddler’s acne might look different than another child’s acne. And some skin rashes may cause symptoms that look like acne.
Symptoms of toddler acne include:
- bumpy skin
- skin redness
- solid, skin-colored bumps (nodules)
- hard bumps or lumps just under the skin (cysts)
- red or pink bumps
- small bumps that are skin-colored or white (whiteheads)
- clogged pores that are bumpy or dark in color (blackheads)
- skin color changes
- skin pitting or scarring
Toddler acne can happen on your little one’s face, scalp, and back. It often shows up around their mouth and on their chin, cheeks, and forehead.
Acne in both newborns (neonatal acne, from birth to 6 weeks) and teenagers is very common and normally triggered by changing hormones.
Infantile acne, on the other hand, starts after about 6 weeks of age. It’s much less common than the neonatal variety, but it can happen. It usually goes away by the time baby turns 1 year old, but it may last longer and be more severe than neonatal acne.
True acne starting in the toddler years (12 to 36 months) is very uncommon. Often, you’re dealing with something that looks like acne but isn’t.
Let’s take a look at the causes of both toddler acne and toddler acne look-alikes.
If your toddler’s acne began when they were just a newborn, it may be caused by a temporary boost in hormones. For example, too much testosterone might trigger their skin’s oil glands to churn out too much oil.
In some babies and toddlers, this can cause blocked pores and acne. But in most cases, hormonal acne in newborns is temporary and goes away in a few weeks to months. It’s possible for it to last into the toddler years, but unusual.
Talk with your pediatrician if your toddler’s acne is left over from babyhood, so they can rule out any other more worrisome causes.
More serious hormonal problems (acne)
Toddler acne that starts at age 2 or older can also be triggered by an abnormal change in hormones. This is more serious because the hormonal imbalance may also lead to other signs and symptoms that don’t generally happen in toddlerhood, like:
- body odor
- body hair
- genital developmental changes
If your child has acne and other symptoms of a severe hormonal imbalance, see your pediatrician right away. They’ll likely order blood tests for hormonal screening.
Blocked pores (possibly acne)
Just like adult skin, your toddler’s sensitive skin can get irritated and have blocked pores. This can sometimes trap germs in their skin and cause toddler acne.
Even food left on your child’s face can sometimes irritate their skin, block pores, and lead to toddler acne — or, more commonly, rashes that look like acne. This usually happens around their mouth and chin, where food that misses going into their mouth lands.
Blocked pores and skin irritation can happen from:
- eczema creams
- transferred makeup (from someone else kissing or hugging them)
Skin sensitivity (acne look-alike)
Toddler rashes mimicking acne can be a symptom of food sensitivity in your little one. For example, added or natural hormones in cow’s milk, dairy products, and other foods may lead to rashes.
Your toddler might also get a skin reaction that looks like acne from chemicals on their skin or in their environment. These include chemicals in:
- laundry detergent
- hand sanitizer
- essential oils
Food allergy (acne look-alike)
A food allergy can sometimes cause a rash that looks like acne. The difference is that the skin rash will pop up suddenly and go away if your toddler doesn’t have the food again.
Skin rashes from a food allergy can happen anywhere on the body, including the face.
Food allergies are often discovered around the time your child becomes a toddler and is trying different foods.
Check for other food allergy symptoms in your toddler, like:
- red, swollen, or bumpy rashes
- itchy mouth
- “funny” taste in their mouth
- runny nose
- scratchy throat
- feeling like they have lump in their throat
- stomach pain
- redness or dark circles around their eyes
- mouth or face swelling
- swelling anywhere in their body
Perioral dermatitis (acne look-alike)
Your toddler may have a rash that just looks like acne. Perioral dermatitis causes a red, bumpy rash around the mouth. It can sometimes spread to around the nose and even the cheeks and eyes.
Perioral dermatitis is rare in children, but it can cause acne-like rashes in toddlers, children, and adults. This skin condition may happen from using:
- steroid creams
- inhaled steroid medication
- moisturizer or heavy skin creams
Viral skin condition (acne look-alike)
A viral skin condition called molluscum contagiosum is most common in children ages 1 to 10, so it can certainly show up in toddlers — especially if you live in a warm, humid climate.
It’s caused by a poxvirus that results in small pink or skin-colored bumps. These might look like acne, but your pediatrician will be able to easily distinguish between the two.
As its name suggests, molluscum contagiosum can be contagious and spread from child to child by direct contact. The acne-like skin bumps can also last for a while.
Though this skin condition isn’t harmful, you should still see your child’s doctor for a diagnosis.
Treatment for toddler acne depends on the cause. Some kinds of acne may go away on their own. And rashes that merely mimic acne — like skin bumps caused by a food allergy — will go away with their own cause-specific treatment.
So, the first step is receiving an accurate diagnosis. If it’s true acne, your doctor may request hormone or other blood tests to find out the cause, then prescribe treatment accordingly.
Also ask your doctor about trying home remedies for mild toddler acne.
Get emergency medical attention if you think your toddler is having an allergic reaction to something.
But also make an appointment to see your pediatrician if your toddler has acne or any kind of skin rash. Toddler acne can sometimes have a more serious cause, like a hormonal imbalance or a skin infection.
Early diagnosis means faster treatment and healing.
Toddler acne is another thing you can’t always prevent for your child. In some cases, nothing you did — or didn’t do — caused it.
In other cases, once you know the cause of your toddler’s acne or skin rash, you might be able to prevent it. For example, if their skin condition is linked to a food allergy or a chemical sensitivity, avoiding the trigger can help prevent toddler acne.
Toddler acne can happen for a few reasons. Sometimes, they just have leftover baby acne. Other causes of toddler acne are more serious.
See your child’s pediatrician right away if your toddler has acne or any kind of skin rash. Toddler acne and other similar skin conditions may need medical treatment.