What is baby acne?
Baby acne, sometimes referred to as neonatal acne, is a common skin condition which develops on an infant’s face, usually the cheeks, chin, nose and forehead.
It can also appear across the torso and occasionally on the back of the neck and shoulders.
Baby pimples are harmless and usually temporary, resulting in tiny white bumps or reddish-pink baby lumps which are sometimes accompanied by pus filled whiteheads.
The condition occurs in roughly 20 percent of newborns, mainly boys, and statistically seems to be more common in babies born at full term (between 37 and 40 weeks gestation) compared with premature babies.
In most cases, baby acne disappears without any medical intervention.
If your baby is older than three months and exhibiting acne, they may have infantile acne which is associated with larger, raised, stubborn blemishes that tend to stick around longer and require treatment to prevent scarring.
How long does baby acne last?
Newborn pimples generally develop anytime from birth up to four weeks old, and disappear naturally within one to three months.
What causes baby acne?
While baby acne is relatively common, doctors have struggled to come up with a single answer for what causes the condition.
The two best solutions science can provide are:
Some researchers believe it is triggered by hormonal changes during the mother’s pregnancy.
During the final stages of pregnancy, certain hormones pass from a mother to her baby through the placenta.
Paediatric dermatologist Dr Camila K. Janniger says baby acne can be caused by different factors, including a natural, temporary increase in sebum production and the stimulation of the sebaceous glands as a result of hormonal imbalances.
“We don’t really know the cause of newborn pimples, but it’s likely due to an inflammatory reaction to a Malassezia, a common type of yeast that colonises on a baby’s skin,” says Katie Pyle, a paediatrician at UCHealth Care Clinic in Firestone, Colorado.
What does baby acne it look like?
Baby pimples appear as bright red or white bumps which are often mistaken for a rash or insect bite.
Is baby acne the same thing as baby milk pimples?
Baby acne is often confused with milk pimples, scientifically known as milia.
Milk bumps are always white as opposed to the red and pink appearance of newborn pimples.
They get their name because they look like a light spray of milk across a child’s face, and are most commonly found on the forehead, cheeks or around the corners of the mouth.
Milia occur when small flakes of dead skin become trapped in the surface of the skin, which are neither painful or irritating to a baby.
Although milk pimples and baby acne are two separate conditions, the best approach to both is simply to do nothing.
These skin issues are widely common and usually fade without any scarring or lasting marks.
How to get rid of baby pimples
Because the vast majority of cases disappear after one to three months, experts do not recommend any medication for baby acne treatment.
It’s important not to try any over the counter creams or lotions without consulting with your paediatrician first, as many of these products can be damaging to a baby’s sensitive skin.
In severe circumstances a doctor may prescribe azelaic acid cream, Retin-A, benzoyl peroxide gel or tretinoin cream.
- Breast milk: Yes, really. Although many see this advice as a remnant of an old wives’ tale, breast milk contains lauric acid which has significant antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties, both excellent antidotes to neonatal acne. Dab a few drops over the affected area and leave to air dry.
- Coconut oil: Many paediatricians recommend drops of coconut oil instead of harsh, abrasive chemicals for standard cases of baby acne. Add a little oil to a cotton bud and dab gently over your baby’s face.
- Changing diet: If you are breastfeeding, trial cutting out certain inflammatory foods and hormone rich sources like dairy products to see if the acne subsides. Nursing mothers who switch up their dietary routine have also seen a reduction in the severity of their baby’s eczema. Citrus fruits have been widely reported as the cause of infant skin problems.
- Be gentle: When washing a baby’s face, parents should wipe and dab carefully with a luke warm cloth to avoid scratching or pinching pimples and bumps. Over-scrubbing could lead to irritation, inflammation or infection.
- Never pop or pick: Avoid touching the affected area in so far as possible, and place cotton mittens on your baby’s hands at night if they are scratching at their face.
- Moisturise: You can never start early enough, and if your newborn has acne it’s even more important to keep their face squeaky clean and moisturised at all times. Use a mild soap and fragrance-free, hypoallergenic lotion to keep skin plump and hydrated.
- Give your little one daily baths: Dirt, oil and bacteria can get trapped in a baby’s skin leaving them more prone to breakouts, so maintain a daily bathing routine to minimise the risk of eruptions.
- Use a humidifier: As with teenage and adult pimples, baby acne can be irritated by dry air. Use a humidifier in your baby’s room to naturally lock in moisture.
Can it cause any long-term damage?
Although it can look pretty nasty, the good news is that baby acne is completely harmless and usually disappears without a trip to the doctor.
When to seek medical advice?
If your baby’s acne doesn’t go away within a few months of development, consult with your GP to see if they feel a gentle medicated cream or other non-invasive treatment is appropriate.
You should also seek medical attention if the acne spreads to other parts of the body or where it is accompanied by a fever or wheezing.
In extremely rare cases, persistent baby acne can be a sign of underlying conditions such as tumours, adrenal disorders and problems with the endocrine system.
As the saying goes, mother (and father) knows best, so always seek professional advice if you are concerned about any aspect of your baby’s wellbeing.
Talking to your doctor about skin breakouts or unusual marks will help you become familiar with your baby’s complexion and unique dermatological make-up.