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Baby Acne: Causes & Treatments

Medically Reviewed by Dr. Pierrette Mimi Poinsett, MD
Learn what causes baby acne, when it starts and what to do about it.

Is your baby getting pimple-like bumps on its beautiful little chin? Is it even possible for babies to get acne?

It turns out acne and pimples are not exclusively for teenagers; babies get them too. And no, it doesn’t mean your little one skipped the infant stage and went straight to puberty. Fortunately, there’s no immediate need to seek medical advice; it’s completely normal.

In this article, we’ll discuss the causes of baby acne, how long it lasts, and what you can do about it.

What Is Baby Acne?

Baby with acne sucking a pacifier

Baby acne is a term used to describe an acne-like breakout on your newborn. It is usually a temporary skin condition, which causes red or whitish bumps on the face and body.

There are two types of acne occurring in babies — neonatal acne and infantile acne.

1. Neonatal Acne

If your baby has acne before six weeks of age, doctors refer to it as neonatal acne. About 20 percent of newborns develop this type, and it mostly affects boys. Some may even have it from the moment they enter the world.

Doctors, nonetheless, don’t consider this true acne, but more on that below.

Neonatal acne generally appears on the face — on the forehead, cheeks, and chin. Sometimes it runs down the back or chest.

The affected areas may look bumpy and oily, much like they would on an adult. Still, the breakouts can also simply appear as small red dots.

2. Infantile Acne

If your baby is between three and 16 months, doctors call it infantile acne. This type is less common, affecting approximately 2 percent of babies. But, much like neonatal acne, boys are more likely to develop it.

Infantile acne is a bit different from the baby acne most of us know. Your baby may still have red and whitish bulges, but blackheads and nodules can also appear. These typically surface in clusters, and the bumps may contain pus.

Infantile acne usually runs its course. However, in rare cases, it can be persistent and difficult to get rid of. And unlike neonatal, this type is generally viewed as true acne.

Why Does My Baby Have Acne?

This is not easy to answer. Acne, for adults and babies alike, remains somewhat of a mystery to this day. Some experts have chalked it up to hormones. Acne may also be due to sensitivity to a yeast that commonly lives on the skin.

1. Yeast

Yeast, or more specifically, the Malassezia species, is a well-known fungus found on the outer layers of our skin. I
Yeast can cause an inflammatory response. This, in turn, may cause an acne flare-up.

Some suggest that an overreaction to yeast is the sole cause of neonatal acne. This is also why some experts don’t consider this type to be true acne (1).

2. Skincare Products

Skincare products are used to combat dry skin. However, they can also trigger acne, especially if they are too oily. A baby’s skin is extremely sensitive and products must be mild and safe for babies.

Too much oil will block the pores and thereby cause an outbreak of acne.

How Long Will My Baby’s Acne Last?Baby boy with acne

The duration will depend on the type your baby has. Neonatal acne generally runs its course before four months of age. This type usually doesn’t leave any scarring or marks later on.

Infantile acne, however, can be more persistent. Sometimes it can last up to two years, if not more. This may require treatment, especially if it seems tenacious — it can also leave scarring if not treated properly (2).

An Indicator of Future Skin Problems?

It’s almost impossible to tell what issues we must deal with in the future. But there are some clues when we are babies.

If your baby has neonatal acne, there’s no need to worry. Although your child may still develop acne as they grow up, it isn’t due to your pregnancy hormones. There is no connection between baby acne and the acne that teens and adults suffer from.

Infantile acne, on the other hand, can sometimes indicate that acne is also in the cards in the future. Some studies revealed this type could lead to more severe cases of breakouts during adolescent years (3).

Similar Conditions

There are several conditions which can cause acne-like breakouts. Fortunately, most of these usually don’t require a visit to the pediatric office.

Here are just a few.

1. Eczema

Eczema is a skin condition affecting babies and children. It causes dry, flaky skin, appearing as rashes, generally on the face and torso, but may spread to other parts of the body (4).

You can often tell acne and eczema apart by the texture of the breakout. Acne will cause oily, shiny skin, whereas eczema causes dryness and potential peeling.

2. Erythema Toxicum

Erythema toxicum is a relatively common skin condition, affecting about half of newborns. It causes rashes, consisting of yellow or whitish bumps, surrounded by redness, appearing on the face (5).

In contrast to its complicated name, this condition is not a cause for concern and will disappear on its own.

3. Milia

Milia are tiny white bumps appearing around the nose, eyes, and cheeks. The bulges are dead skin cells, trapped underneath the outer layer. This condition is normal and will usually go away after a couple of days (6).

4. Heat Rash

Heat rashes occur when your baby is too hot. These rashes can cause acne-like breakouts.

However, they tend to show up in sweatier places such as the armpits and neck. Still, they can also appear near the hairline if your little one has a full head of hair.

But unlike acne, a heat rash will subside once the temperature falls.

5. Cradle Cap

Simply put, cradle cap is dandruff for babies. This common occurrence causes an oily rash, generally at the crown of the head. The area will look scaly, sometimes red or yellow in color (7).

Much like baby acne, the exact causes of cradle cap remain a mystery. Experts believe it’s also due to an overdose of mother-to-fetus hormones, which causes overproduction of oil glands.

Treatment for Baby Acne

Even though baby acne can look similar to adult acne, you must treat it differently. Keep in mind that infant skin is sensitive, and handling it incorrectly could result in scarring.

Additionally, never try to pop any pimples or squeeze any blackheads. Yes, I know it may be tempting. But, not only can you increase the chance of infection.

So, to all of you pimple-popping mommas, here are a few ways to treat your baby’s acne.

1. Keep Baby’s Face Clean

Any residue present on your baby’s face can cause irritation and make the acne worse. Whether it’s vomit, or simply spit up milk, make sure you wipe it off.

With some lukewarm water and a cotton pad, proceed to wash your baby’s face gently. You can apply some hypoallergenic soap or a soap-free cleanser which is less irritating to the skin.

Avoid using a coarse washcloth on your baby’s face.

2. Be Gentle

Following bath time, it’s essential you gently pat your baby dry with a towel. Make sure you dry in between all the folds and creases.

Towels can be notoriously harsh on sensitive skin. In fact, they can work as exfoliators. So you can imagine the irritation they might cause on your baby’s acne if you begin to rub them dry.

No matter how soft the towel, dab or pat gently rather than roughly rubbing.

3. Moisturize

After a wash, apply a moisturizing lotion. Avoid using lotion in the areas with acne. Lotion may clog the pores and make acne worse.

4. Try a Humidifier

Dry air can cause acne flare-ups. By using a humidifier, you can add some moisture to the indoor atmosphere. This may be particularly helpful during the cold winter time, when dry skin is more likely.

5. Breast Milk

Breast milk holds many powers. It contains lauric acid, and thus it can act as an antibacterial and anti-inflammatory agent (8).

Take a few drops of breast milk, then wipe it over the acne and leave it to air dry. Some mothers swear by this old wives’ tale remedy.

6. Coconut Oil

Coconut oil is the savior of acne-prone skin. It contains an array of nutrients, some of which include vitamin E and K, and lauric acid, among many others (9).

Skin readily absorbs it, and it’s quick to restore lost moisture and make the surface appear supple.

But of course, as with any natural product, consult your pediatrician before the first use.

7. Try a Scent and Color Free Detergent

The best way to treat baby acne is to prevent it from developing. Sometimes the harsh chemicals and additives found in our detergents can remain in clothes and bedding. If your baby already has sensitive skin, it could cause, or worsen, the acne.

Avoid using these products and, instead, opt for scent and color free detergent. These are natural and much milder for your baby’s skin.

When to Seek Medical Advice

If your baby has a case of neonatal acne happening before six weeks, there shouldn’t be a need to worry. You can follow some of the treatments above and it will no doubt run its course. But of course, always consult your pediatrician if you’re in doubt.

Specialists recommend you seek medical advice if your baby develops acne after six weeks of age. This is generally to implement the right treatment to prevent scarring. Doctors will usually treat it with topical creams and oral medicines (10).

However, sometimes, infantile acne could be an indicator of a health issue in your baby. Your doctor might carry out blood tests or an X-ray to eliminate other conditions.

Headshot of Dr. Pierrette Mimi Poinsett, MD

Medically Reviewed by

Dr. Pierrette Mimi Poinsett, MD

Dr. Pierrette Mimi Poinsett is a veteran board-certified pediatrician with three decades of experience, including 19 years of direct patient clinical care. She currently serves as a medical consultant, where she works with multiple projects and clients in the area of pediatrics, with an emphasis on children and adolescents with special needs.