Baby Acne: Causes, Treatment, and Prevention


Newborn baby asleep with baby acne on its face.
Highlights
  • Baby acne is a skin condition that causes small red or white blemishes to develop on a newborn’s face.

  • Common causes of baby acne include skin immaturity and hormonal influences from the mother.

  • Although baby acne tends to resolve on its own, treatment options involve using gentle newborn-friendly facial cleaners and soft fabrics on the face to reduce irritation. Some natural remedies may also be helpful for soothing breakouts.

  • It’s not always possible to prevent baby acne, but taking proper care of your newborn’s skin can help reduce its severity and duration.

Dealing with skin conditions that have no clear cause — like baby or infantile acne — can be stressful for new parents.

However, baby acne is an extremely common condition that affects around 20% of newborns in the United States. It’s usually nothing to worry about if you manage it correctly.

Understanding why babies develop acne and what you can do to properly look after your newborn’s skin is essential for reducing the severity of these breakouts.

In this article, we’ll take a closer look at the causes of baby acne, effective treatment options, and steps you can take to prevent it from getting worse.

What is Baby Acne?

Baby acne — also known as neonatal acne — is a skin condition characterized by the appearance of small red or white bumps on an infant’s face.

These bumps usually occur on the cheeks, nose, and forehead, typically developing within the first few weeks after birth.

Although baby acne can last for several months, it’s generally considered a temporary condition that can resolve without medical treatment.

How can you tell the difference between a rash and acne?

It’s possible to confuse an acne breakout with rashes caused by external factors. But these two conditions aren’t the same.

Here’s how you can tell the difference:

Location: Acne typically appears on and around the face, whereas rashes tend to develop around the legs, chest, and diaper area.

Appearance: Rashes may be red or yellow and flaky, making the skin look dry or scaly. Acne is characterized by bumps and pimples on the face.

Secondary symptoms: Acne typically won’t cause the same symptoms that rashes do. If your baby has a rash, they tend to experience itchiness and burning that can be extremely uncomfortable.

What Causes Baby Acne?

The exact causes of baby acne aren’t fully understood yet, but there are a number of factors that may contribute to its development.

Hormonal influences

During pregnancy, a mother’s body undergoes significant hormonal shifts. Some of these hormones can cross the placenta and impact the unborn baby.

Androgens are one group of hormones that fluctuate during pregnancy.

They are known to stimulate sebaceous glands on the skin, which can cause excess oil to build up and clog the pores. Over time, this can lead to acne.

When androgens enter the baby’s bloodstream, they can have a similar effect on the fetus’ developing oil glands, which may cause acne to appear.

Skin immaturity

A newborn’s skin is significantly different from that of older children and adults.

Their skin is usually much thinner and more delicate, which can leave them vulnerable to conditions like acne.

Firstly, their skin barrier — which keeps moisture locked in and irritants out — is still developing. This means their face is more susceptible to irritation and breakouts.

Newborns’ oil glands may be more active while their skin adjusts to their new environment. This can lead to excess sebum production and increase the risk of clogged pores.

Lastly, a baby’s immune system and its responses are still developing. This means that their skin might react more severely to external factors perceived as irritants.

Due to these excessive immune responses, a baby’s skin can become more easily inflamed and vulnerable to acne.

Key Point: Does Breastfeeding Cause Baby Acne?

It’s possible for hormones to pass into a mother’s breast milk and cause acne to develop. But this shouldn’t affect the way you feed your baby.

Although baby acne can be uncomfortable, it’s still a temporary condition.

It’s more important to ensure your baby is breastfed to ensure that they are well-nourished and adjusted to their new environment.

Woman breastfeeding her baby.

How Can You Care for Your Baby’s Skin if They Have Acne?

Caring for your baby’s skin if they have acne typically involves gentle treatments to help manage the condition and prevent further irritation.

Gentle cleansing

Washing your baby’s face with lukewarm water and a mild, fragrance-free cleanser once a day can help to clear their skin. After cleansing, gently pat the skin dry with a soft, clean towel.

It’s recommended to avoid harsh soaps, scrubs, and adult skin care products because they can make acne worse.

You should also avoid applying too many different products — such as oils, lotions, and creams — on your baby’s face, as this can cause further irritation.

Over-the-counter (OTC) treatments

Your pediatrician may recommend OTC products to help reduce the severity of your baby’s acne. This can include:

  • An antifungal cream like ketoconazole.

  • A low-potency topical steroid like hydrocortisone.

These products can be applied to a baby’s skin like a lotion or moisturizer. Avoid squeezing and picking

Squeezing or picking at bumps can cause further irritation and even lead to a skin infection that may worsen acne.

This can make baby acne last much longer and cause your newborn unnecessary discomfort.

Limit sun exposure

A baby’s delicate skin is usually highly sensitive to the sun. Not only can prolonged exposure lead to sun damage, but it can also cause acne to become more inflamed.

If you’re outside, you can limit your baby’s exposure to UV rays by using wide-brimmed sun hats to cover their face and seeking shade where possible.

Avoid strong detergents

Use a mild, fragrance-free, and baby-friendly detergent when washing their clothes and bedding.

Normal detergents can irritate the baby’s sensitive skin and aggravate their acne.

Use soft fabrics

Dress and wash your baby with soft, breathable fabrics to minimize skin irritation. These may include:

  • Cotton

  • Bamboo

  • Muslin

  • Jersey knit

You should also avoid using rough or synthetic fabrics — like polyester, nylon, or rayon — that can aggravate acne and cause discomfort.

Be patient and monitor changes

Baby acne tends to resolve on its own as your newborn’s hormones stabilize and their skin matures.

Even with proper care, it might take a few weeks or months for the condition to improve, so it’s important to remain patient.

While treating your baby’s skin, you should also keep an eye out for changes in the bumps’ appearance.

If they become increasingly red, inflamed, or show signs of infection — such as oozing pus — consult a pediatrician as soon as possible.

Natural Remedies To Treat Baby Acne

Natural remedies for newborn acne offer a gentle way to care for and soothe your baby’s skin.

The effectiveness of these remedies can vary between babies, so it’s important to consult with your pediatrician before using them to ensure that they won’t cause further skin irritation.

Before using any herbal remedies, it’s important to do a patch test — typically on the back of your baby’s hand or on their arm — to determine if it would cause any adverse effects.

Chamomile tea compress

Chamomile is known for its soothing properties and may help calm down inflamed acne.

Brew chamomile tea and let it cool before applying it to the affected areas of your baby’s skin. Use a clean cloth as a compress and wash with warm water afterwards.

Coconut oil

Although coconut oil may be comedogenic for some individuals, others find it helpful for moisturizing and soothing the skin.

This may help to calm inflamed breakouts and reduce any discomfort for your baby.

Key Point: What Does Comedogenic Mean?

If a product is comedogenic, it means that it’s more likely to clog your pores and cause breakouts.

Comedogenic products can disrupt the way our skin produces and gets rid of oil, leading to the formation of blemishes.

Oatmeal bath

Oatmeal baths are great for soothing breakouts that have spread to other parts of the body — such as the scalp, neck, back, or chest.

Grind plain, unflavoured oats into a fine powder before adding it to your baby’s bath. Wash them as normal, using gentle products to avoid further irritation.

Aloe vera gel

Aloe vera is a naturally anti-inflammatory product that can help calm breakouts by soothing redness and inflammation.

If you’re using aloe vera, make sure the gel is pure and free of additives or fragrances that may cause further skin irritation.

Know When to Seek Medical Advice

Baby acne is generally a harmless and temporary condition that rarely requires medical attention.

But knowing when to consult your pediatrician about acne is key to giving your baby the best possible care.

If your baby’s acne persists for longer than the first six months of life, or if the breakouts seem to be getting worse, schedule an appointment with your pediatrician.

You should also consult them if the blemishes become red or swollen, as this could be a sign of infection that requires a more targeted acne treatment.

It’s a good idea to speak to your pediatrician if you’re concerned about secondary skin conditions — like eczema or allergic reactions — that might develop. They can help you with a proper diagnosis and treatment plan to avoid these conditions.

Lastly, any unusual symptoms — such as fever, lethargy, or changes in feeding behavior — require prompt medical attention.

These symptoms may indicate a bodily infection that requires medical treatment.

Key Point: When is Baby Acne Abnormal?

If your baby develops acne after six weeks of age, it may be a sign of a health problem. It’s recommended to take your baby for a skin exam, blood test, or X-ray to determine the cause.

Where Can You Learn More About Baby Acne?

If you’re concerned about your baby’s acne or want to know more about this condition, LifeMD is here to help.

Licensed medical professionals can provide information about baby acne and guidance on how to manage it properly — all from the comfort of your home.

Make an appointment with a doctor or nurse practitioner to give your baby the best possible care with LifeMD.

Dr. Payel Gupta

Dr. Gupta holds certifications from the American Board of Allergy and Immunology, American Board of Internal Medicine, and American Board of Pediatrics. With a deep interest in global health, she’s volunteered her clinical skills across many continents.

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This article is intended for informational purposes only and should not be considered medical advice. Consult a healthcare professional or call a doctor in the case of a medical emergency.

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