Learn how to identify and care for baby acne, and how to tell the difference between baby acne and common skin rashes.
Acne isn’t just for teens--- your baby could develop acne as well. Baby acne is common, but it’s nothing to worry about. Today, we’ll cover how to identify baby acne, what causes it, and how to treat it.
What is baby acne?
Baby acne, also called neonatal acne, is pimples that develop on baby’s face, neck, back, and/or upper chest, similar to adolescent acne.
It usually starts to develop between 2 and 4 weeks of age (but could develop any time before 6 weeks of age), and it’s estimated to affect between 20% and 40% of babies younger than 6 weeks of age.
Fortunately, baby acne is temporary. It should clear up on its own eventually --- usually, it will clear by 4 months of age. It also doesn’t cause permanent scars like teen acne can.
Baby acne will usually last anywhere from a few days to a few months.
What causes baby acne?
We don’t yet know what causes baby acne.
But just like the acne in teens, hormones are thought to be the cause. In the case of baby acne, though, it’s the hormones of baby’s mother that may be to blame. Baby still has some of their mother’s hormones in their bloodstream from when they were in the womb.This may cause their oil glands to produce more oil than they need to, leading the pores to get clogged and the pimples to appear. And baby’s more prone to this because their pores are still developing and their skin is very sensitive.
According to another theory, certain strains of yeast on baby’s skin may cause their skin to become inflamed and cause baby acne to appear.
What does baby acne look like?
Baby acne looks very similar to acne that develops on teen and adult skin. It appears as hard red bumps (pimples), sometimes surrounded by small red inflamed areas of the skin. You may also see whiteheads on the bumps, just like with acne in teens and adults. But baby acne will not cause blackheads.
Baby acne could appear in these areas:
- Other facial areas
- Upper chest
Learn more about baby acne from What To Expect.
Baby Acne Vs. Skin Rashes/Other Skin Conditions
Baby acne can look similar to skin rashes and other skin conditions. Before moving forward, you’ll want to make sure baby has acne and not another skin condition. Here are a few skin rashes and conditions that could be confused with baby acne, and how to tell the difference.
Food Allergy Hives (Food Allergy Rash)
Food allergy hives develop when a baby’s immune system over-defends the body against proteins from a food that baby is allergic to. They appear as raised, often red, bumps, and could appear anywhere on the body. They will suddenly appear seconds to hours after baby eats a food they are allergic to, and will disappear within several hours (lasting no more than 24-48 hours). If a food allergy rash appears all over the body, baby will need epinephrine and medical attention.
Baby Eczema (Atopic Dermatitis)
Baby eczema causes the skin to become dry, rough, flaky, itchy, and sometimes red. Eczema flares up (becomes worse) when baby’s skin is exposed to irritants. It does not cause raised pimples or bumps.
Cradle cap causes rough yellow, white, or brown patches to develop on the scalp. These patches will be very thick and flaky, and sometimes oily. The patches will flake off, kind of like dandruff in older children and adults. Cradle cap may sometimes cause bumps that look similar to baby acne, but cradle cap bumps will be concentrated on the scalp, will be smaller, and will usually be accompanied by the flaky patches.
Milia are tiny white bumps that appear on some babies’ faces, caused by dead skin cells that get caught in the pockets of baby’s skin. Like baby acne, milia will clear up on its own. But milia is not related to baby acne.
Heat rashes look like acne, but they suddenly appear when it’s hot outside. Also, heat rashes usually appear on the areas of baby’s body that are most prone to getting hot. So, they can appear on the face. But heat rashes could also show up on baby’s armpits, wrists, and other parts of their arms and legs (where baby acne does not usually appear).
How to treat baby acne?
The best way to deal with baby acne is simply to be patient, and not apply or do anything that could make your baby’s acne worse. After all, baby acne should eventually clear up on its own.
Follow these tips for caring for baby’s acne:
- Never apply an acne-specific medicine, cream, lotion or wash to baby’s face unless a pediatrician or dermatologist recommends it. Many adult and teen treatments are too harsh for baby’s sensitive skin, and could make acne worse.
- Wash baby’s acne areas twice a day with warm (not hot) water. You can use a soft washcloth to pat or gently sweep these areas in circles, but be very gentle, and do not scrub. Too much rubbing/scrubbing could irritate the acne areas.
- Stay away from harsh soaps, and stay away from any products with fragrances. Only use water and mild soap-free washes designed for babies on baby acne areas.
- Do not use lotions, or any oily products
- Never squeeze or pick at acne.
- Make sure that baby doesn’t pick at their own acne --- have them wear baby mittens or socks on their hands if needed.
- Also, never scrub or rub acne.
- If baby’s acne seems especially stubborn, your pediatrician may prescribe a medicated cream or ointment. Ask your doctor about these treatments if you think they may be needed. Use the treatment exactly as your doctor directs you to, if one is prescribed.
Do I need to see a doctor about baby acne?
Usually, you won’t need to see a doctor about baby acne. However, you may want to see a doctor if baby's acne lasts for several months. Your doctor may prescribe a treatment to help clear baby’s acne.
The American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) also recommends seeing a doctor if baby acne begins when baby is over 6 weeks old. This is much less common than neonatal acne. It may be a sign of another health problem, or a sign that a product you’re using is irritating the skin on baby’s face. Or, what is thought to be acne at this stage might not be acne at all.
If it is acne, though, and develops after six weeks of age, it’s known as infantile acne (completely different from the neonatal acne we’ve discussed in the rest of this article). Infantile acne usually appears between 3 and 6 months of age. Unlike neonatal acne, it can sometimes cause blackheads, and could potentially cause a scar. But fortunately, this type of acne often clears up on its own as well (within 6 months to a year).
You should also see a doctor if your baby’s acne (at any age) seems infected. Excessive swelling, excessive redness, discharge, and fever may be signs of infection.
And of course, if you suspect that baby’s facial rash is caused by eczema or an allergy (and not acne), be sure to let your doctor know.
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