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Baby Acne

Baby acne, also known as neonatal acne, is a common, temporary and harmless skin condition. It develops on a baby’s skin because of blocked pores. Acne can occur anywhere on the face, but it usually appears on the cheeks, forehead and nose.

Last Modified: September 5, 2023
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What Is Baby Acne?

Neonatal acne, or baby acne, often presents as superficial bumps or pimples on the skin. Unlike acne experienced by teens and adults, baby acne does not have whiteheads or blackheads (comedones).

Baby acne typically begins in the first two weeks of life, but can sometimes be present at birth, although this is rare.

Neonatal acne affects about 20% of newborns. It develops mostly on the face but can also develop on the upper back and neck. It often clears up on its own within a few weeks with no scarring or long-term effects.

Infantile acne is a rarer type of acne that occurs in children between six weeks and 12 months of age. Unlike baby acne, infantile acne involves pustules with whiteheads and blackheads, in addition to papules and occasionally nodules and cysts.

This type of acne is more common in boys than girls and can cause scarring of the skin. It is recommended that a baby with infantile acne be seen by a pediatric dermatologist to rule out other health issues.

There are several skin conditions that resemble baby acne, including:
  • Baby eczema
  • Milia
  • Newborn rash (erythema toxicum neonatorum, or ETN)

If present, baby eczema shows up as red bumps on the face. It might also form on elbows and knees as the baby grows older.

Milia are tiny white bumps that form on the face because of dead skin cells that get trapped in tiny pockets of skin. This condition appears within a few weeks of birth and does not require treatment.

Erythema toxicum appears as tiny bumps, a rash or red blotches on the face, limbs or chest in the first few days after birth. This condition typically disappears within a few days.

Symptoms of Baby Acne

Baby acne looks like tiny red or white pustules or bumps rather than blackheads or whiteheads. The pimples usually form on the cheeks, nose, chin and forehead, but they can also show up on the scalp, neck, upper back and upper chest.

Symptoms of neonatal acne include:
  • Small red or white bumps or pimples on the cheeks, nose and forehead
  • Reddish skin surrounding the bumps

Unlike neonatal acne, infantile acne usually involves whiteheads and blackheads along with red spots and pimples. Cysts that form with infantile acne may cause long-term scarring. Infantile acne affects the cheeks, chin and forehead and sometimes other parts of the body.

What Causes Baby Acne?

Doctors don’t know the exact reasons baby acne forms. Some researchers believe the condition stems from a genetic predisposition, maternal and infant hormones, or external irritants. Baby acne is common and usually clears up quickly.

Hormonal acne often occurs in teens and adults, and newborns retain many hormones from their mother in the first few weeks of life. It’s suspected that residual hormones can trigger a form of hormonal acne in babies.

Hormones in the placenta during pregnancy can also overstimulate the oil glands on a baby’s skin prior to delivery. This may then cause acne after birth.

Because pores in a newborn’s skin don’t completely develop until after birth, babies may be susceptible to developing acne from external irritants.

How to Treat Baby Acne

Neonatal acne typically disappears on its own within several weeks with no scarring. Because a baby’s skin is so sensitive, physicians advise avoiding over-the-counter acne treatments, lotions, face washes or any other medicated skin products unless a pediatric dermatologist directly instructs you to do so.

Be sure to only wash your baby’s skin gently with lukewarm water and a mild baby soap, and don’t scrub. Pat skin dry with a soft cloth after washing.

Do not pinch acne or pop any pustules. Talk to your pediatrician or pediatric dermatologist if the acne does not clear up within a couple of weeks.

When to See a Doctor for Your Baby’s Acne

If you’re unsure if your baby has neonatal acne or another skin condition such as infantile acne or eczema, a routine checkup is a great time to ask questions about acne and get an official diagnosis.

Neonatal acne will typically go away on its own. If it does persist or your baby scratches affected areas, consult your pediatrician. If your pediatrician diagnoses infantile acne, they may refer you to a pediatric dermatologist for treatment.

How to Prevent Baby Acne

Pediatric dermatologists, pediatricians and researchers have not determined a way to prevent baby acne.

While some social media influencers suggest using gentle cleansers, mild laundry detergent and keeping the skin clean and dry to prevent neonatal acne, these claims are not scientifically proven to be effective preventive measures. They may, however, help halt further skin irritation.

Please seek the advice of a medical professional before making health care decisions.