Most people think of a baby’s skin as being soft, smooth, and free of imperfections. That’s why it can come as a surprise to parents when they spot reddish bumps and blemishes on their little one’s face.
Acne is a fairly common skin problem that can affect newborns and babies who are a few months old. It usually doesn’t require any special care, but if it happens when your baby is between 3 months to 6 months old you may need to see a dermatologist.
What Is Baby Acne?
Baby acne is a series of reddish bumps and pustules that usually appear on your baby’s forehead, cheeks, and nose. It can also spread to your baby's scalp, chest, neck, and back, though it’s less common. Baby acne is not a serious condition.
About 30% of babies have baby acne. It’s not the same acne that a teenager or adult would have. Baby acne doesn’t usually cause scars if it’s left alone and the affected area is kept clean. Having acne as a baby doesn’t necessarily mean your child will develop it in the future.
Doctors aren’t sure exactly what causes baby acne. Some theories say it comes from the mother’s hormones during birth or a type of yeast that lives on your baby’s skin.
Neonatal acne vs. infantile acne. There are two different kinds of acne: neonatal acne and infantile acne.
Neonatal acne. Baby acne is also known as neonatal acne. Neonatal acne can appear on babies from two weeks of age up until 6 weeks old. This type of acne usually goes away on its own within three to four months.
Infantile acne. Infantile acne can happen when your baby is 3 months to 6 months old. If your baby develops acne after 6 weeks of age, it’s helpful to take them to a dermatologist to help treat it. Infantile acne can last longer than neonatal acne.
How is Baby Acne Diagnosed?
A doctor can usually diagnose baby acne just by looking at it. It’s not to be confused with another common skin condition in babies: milia.
Milia is a condition that affects up to seven out of 10 babies. Milia looks like tiny white bumps on your baby’s nose, forehead, or cheeks.
How to Care for Baby Acne
When caring for your baby’s acne, it’s best to keep it simple. Use lukewarm water and a mild baby soap to cleanse the area.
Be gentle with their skin. Avoid scrubbing your baby’s face or any affected areas, and pat their skin dry after washing. Don’t pinch the acne or try to pop any pustules.
Don’t use any medicated skin products or acne face wash on your baby unless your dermatologist recommends it. Don’t apply any facial lotions, ointments, or baby oil to the areas. It could make your baby's acne worse.
When to See a Doctor
You may need to see a dermatologist if your baby’s acne doesn’t resolve within several months. You should also visit a dermatologist if your baby has infantile acne after they are 6 weeks old. Following a doctor’s advice can help prevent infantile acne from causing scars.
The doctor will look at your baby and make sure the skin condition is in fact acne. It’s possible to mistake acne with another skin condition, so your doctor will want to rule out other possibilities like rashes, infection, or skin irritation.
Your doctor may ask you if other people in your family have acne, and what kind of products you’ve been applying to your baby’s skin. If you’re using multiple products, be prepared to list them all.
If your baby develops acne after they’re 6 weeks old, it could be a sign of another issue. Your baby's doctor may want to do an x-ray or blood test to investigate.
Make sure to tell your doctor if your baby has had any other symptoms like fever, other skin problems, or abnormal behavior.
Most cases of infantile acne last six months to a year or longer. Children with infantile acne can have more severe acne when they are teenagers.
How is Infantile Acne Treated?
Although most cases of infantile acne resolve over time, it might be necessary for your doctor to prescribe medication.
Products containing benzoyl peroxide or topical retinoids are often prescribed for mild to moderate cases of infantile acne. They’re usually applied directly to your baby's skin.
Antibiotics are prescribed for mild acne that is inflammatory. The antibiotics come in the form of cream, and it’s applied to the skin. Antibiotics are used to treat severe acne too, but these are usually taken by mouth. Multiple medications may be prescribed at once.