Baby acne: What you need to know

What is baby acne

Baby acne is a common type of baby face rash that looks like little pimples and is sometimes called a milk rash. While we all expect our newborn’s skin to be blemish-free, there’s most likely nothing to worry about when a few spots crop up on their fresh skin.

It’s a temporary condition, also known as neonatal acne, and tends to appear as red or tiny white bumps, hence why it’s also known as milk rash. If your baby has baby acne, they’re in good company – about 20 percent of newborns develop baby acne.

What causes baby acne?

Most research leans towards maternal or infant hormones triggering baby acne. It develops not long after birth, so the theory is one most experts agree on. Midwife Edwina Sharrock explains, “It’s believed the cause is from the transfer of mum’s hormones in the later stages of pregnancy to bub (not through the breast milk  – as formula fed babies can also have neonatal acne).”

Those hormones in our final weeks of pregnancy are thought to stimulate the oil glands in baby’s body. That’s why the acne usually disappears in a few weeks, once those hormone levels dropdown.

And while the acne may be pretty mild, it’s sometimes irritated by rough fabrics or constant wiping of drool and milk. Even having an intense crying episode or heat may irritate it. So baby’s skin may actually look worse than it actually is.

Is it baby acne or a rash?

Newborn Baby Acne

Baby acne develops in patches from around two weeks old, but it may crop up any time in the first six weeks. Also, don’t be surprised if your baby’s born with acne – some babies have it at birth. It often looks just like adult acne, on a smaller scale.

Milk rash breaks out on the cheeks and nose, and sometimes the forehead, scalp, chin, neck, back, and chest. Babies may also have clogged pores, called comedones, red papules, or small pustules. In some babies, it appears more red and bumpy.

Other common rashes

There are other common rashes children develop as babies that may get confused with milk rash or newborn acne, so here are the symptoms to look for in your child:

Eczema: This baby face rash most typically looks like red bumps. While eczema is usually a face rash, you may also find it on the knees and elbows. A doctor should easily be able to tell whether it’s milk rash or eczema.

Milia: This one’s a little trickier, because it may sometimes look very similar to milk rash. Milia are tiny white pimples that usually appear on the skin on baby’s face. As your little one adjusts to the world, their skin is also getting used to the new environment. Dead skin cells sometimes get caught in small pockets of skin, causing the appearance of white bumps.

Erythema toxicum: Another harmless, newborn skin condition that usually goes a few days after birth. Erythema toxicum looks like red blotches or small, raised bumps with a yellow or white centre. It may also be found around the body and on the skin around your little one’s face, chest, arms and legs.

Infantile acne: If your little one still has acne after around six weeks it may actually be infantile acne. It’s much less common for this type of acne to start after six weeks, so it’s worth heading to the doctor to check baby’s skin has developed an infection or another type of skin condition.

Chickenpox: A viral infection that covers the body with blisters, pimples and also comes with tiredness and fever. The symptoms include a rash on the tummy, back and face, but it may also spread everywhere. It’s also pretty itchy. The difference is that milk rash doesn’t usually spread below the upper chest and back, and isn’t usually itchy.

Heat rash: Sometimes called miliaria, it happens when baby’s sweat glands are blocked. Too many layers can cause overheating, or even sitting directly in front of a heater. Even been holding a child too tightly may trigger miliaria.

How long does baby acne last?

Baby acne usually starts between two and four weeks, but for some children the acne may hang around for a few weeks or even months. Generally, it does tend to go away within a few weeks. However, if baby’s acne is still pretty prominent after six weeks of age, it’s worth getting it medically checked.

“It is important that you speak to your GP or midwife as every child is different. If they confirm it is hormonal then it is likely it will go with time,” Edwina says.

How to get rid of baby acne

Baby acne usually disappears without medical treatment. While it may look sore, inflamed and itchy – rest assured it’s not. But there are a couple of things to treat baby’s skin if it’s bothering you.

“Firstly talk to your care provider, it is important to rule out eczema, thrush, or much less likely herpes and other things, which have different treatment,” explains Edwina.

“Then do very little to treat it. Keep baby’s skin clean and dry and don’t introduce lots of products. In our maternity unit, the treatment we suggest some olive oil in the bath and use clean water and a soft towel to bathe baby.”

The best treatment for baby acne is to be gentle and mild with their delicate skin:

  • Don’t squeeze or pinch the pimples
  • Try to use a soft towel or cloth on the affected areas
  • Avoid using any cream or lotions you’d usually use to treat adult acne
  • Just use warm, not hot, water to bathe your newborn
  • Keep baby’s face clean – just use warm water and a soft cloth
  • Some mums use breastmilk or breastmilk soap in the bath to soothe the skin

For the most part, see how your child goes without treatment, but get medical advice if you’re concerned. Your doctor may prescribe a cream to help clear the newborn acne up.

Just remember, while your precious babe may not have the clear skin we expect newborns to have, it’s nothing serious and eventually goes away. Until they’re teenagers of course!

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