Acne in Newborns (What Causes It & How To Differentiate Newborn Acne From Other Conditions)

Newborn acne is also known as neonatal acne and has been found to affect 20-40% of newborns. Newborn acne is a harmless, temporary skin condition affecting either the face or body of the baby. On the face, they mostly appear on the forehead, nose, and cheeks. It’s in the form of tiny red pimples that mostly disappear on its own without treatment. These pimples usually start appearing around 2- 3 weeks after the baby is born.

Infantile acne can also look like cysts or nodules, and they rarely leave scars. Researchers have found that this acne is mostly related to maternal hormones because these hormones are still inside the newborn’s blood as a holdover pregnancy.

The sluggish oil-producing glands in a baby are stimulated by these maternal hormones resulting in pimples on the eyelids, cheeks, nose, chest, and forehead, and sometimes, the head, neck, back, and upper chest.

Another factor that contributes to newborn acne is that their skin pores are not yet developed and can easily entrap dirt. Some newborns are also likely to develop milia after a few weeks of birth.

Milia appears like tiny white bumps on the skin, but without inflammation. Many babies are born with these blemishes, which develop as the result of trapped skin oil beneath the surface of the skin.

Like acne, milia is a common and harmless skin condition and is likely to disappear on its own.

I never ever heard of newborn acne in my life and thought of acne as exclusive to teenagers. But little did I know that newborn acne not just existed but is also completely harmless.

When I first saw those little red pimples on my baby’s pretty little face, I literally freaked out. The first thing that came to my mind was an allergic reaction, but then, of course, I thought of doing my research before jumping to conclusions.

And found out that it is not just common but is also pretty harmless among newborns…Sigh!

I’m going to share what I found with you to save you the trouble of going through tens of articles and share a few tips on how to get through this phase as patiently as possible.

What causes newborn acne?

A newborn baby boy is sleeping, and you can see some newborn acne on his cheeks.

As newborn acne appears right after birth, it can be attributed to maternal hormones. The hormones that get passed into the bloodstream of the newborn during the last stage of pregnancy are the leading cause of this acne in newborns.

In some cases, researchers have found that an inflammatory reaction to skin colonization with Malassezia species can also be the reason behind acne in newborns.

Since the skin of newborns is very sensitive, the acne on the skin can get worse from formula, breastmilk, or spit-up that comes in contact with the skin.

Some other acne-worsening things, like coarse fabrics and strong detergents, can also make the acne look worse.

Some newborns can also develop acne due to medicines, illnesses, and allergic reactions. So, in case your baby develops rashes or pimples on the skin after an illness or medication, contact your doctor immediately.

How to differentiate baby acne from other skin issues?

1. Eczema

Eczema is a skin condition that looks like red bumps on the face, knees, and elbows as the newborn starts to get older.

Eczema is likely to get infected and look yellow and crusty. When a newborn starts to crawl around, the acne on the elbows and knees can get severe due to contact with the floor.

The most commonly found eczema is atopic dermatitis. Another eczema condition, Seborrhea eczema, is often confused with newborn acne.

Eczema can be treated with over-the-counter products like Aquaphor and Vanicream, but it’s best to consult your pediatrician for proper advice and treatment.

2. Erythema toxicum

Erythema toxicum is also confused with newborn acne. It appears as a rash, tiny bumps, or red blotches, and occurs on the baby’s face, chest, face, and limb.

Just like acne, it is harmless and disappears without treatment in a few days.

3. Milia

Milia are tiny white bumps that appear on the face of the baby. They occur as a result of trapped dead skill cells beneath the skin, and just like regular acne, they appear after a few weeks of birth.

They also do not require treatment and will disappear on their own within a few weeks.

Treatments for newborn acne

Most newborn acne does not require any treatment, but in some cases, this acne lingers for months instead of weeks.

To treat this stubborn acne doctor might prescribe a medicated cream or ointment to clear it up.

Make sure not to use any kind of OTC acne treatments, lotions, and face washes. As the newborn’s skin is very sensitive, you might worsen or cause additional acne by using harsh lotions and other skincare products.

Just wash your newborn’s face with plain water once or twice a day without scrubbing.

Home remedies for acne treatment

You can take certain precautionary measures while waiting for the acne to be gone like

  1. Wash your newborn’s face once or twice with plain water or medicated fragrance-free cleansers. Go over things with your baby’s pediatrician before using any kind of product.
  2. Avoid using a retinoid, vitamin A or erythromycin, as they are only recommended for adult acne.
  3. Most of the lotions are fragrant and may worsen your newborn’s acne. Therefore, avoid using anything on the face except for creams prescribed by the doctor.
  4. Make sure that no one squeezes or pinches the acne, for it will spread the infection to other parts of the body and worsen the face acne.
  5. Don’t stress over the acne, as it will disappear on its own. But meanwhile, try avoiding contact with dirty things or clothes.
  6. Try using natural remedies to speed up the process. For instance, some moms dab breast milk on the infected areas of the face or body and have seen beneficial results.

How to differentiate baby acne from rash?

A baby boy is laying on his tummy and you can see redness on his cheeks due to newborn acne.

Several skin-related issues and rashes in newborns are itchy and uncomfortable for newborns.

They can also infect other parts of the face or body like:

Heat rash

Heat rash typically appears on the newborn’s face, arms, upper chest, legs, and diaper region during hot summer days.

They appear as tiny, moist, red bumps quite similar to acne. A newborn can feel itchy or tingly and cry or fuss more than usual.

Diaper rash

A diaper rash occurs due to moisture, irritant, and less air exposure to the diaper area.

Cradle cap

Cradle cap, also known as seborrhea dermatitis, is usually smaller than acne and has yellow flaky skin around it.

They usually appear on the head but can also spread to the upper body and eyebrows.

When to see a doctor?

A pediatrician is checking a newborn baby boy for acne

Typically, parents are told to wait for the acne to disappear on their own, but if the newborn’s acne results in blackheads, pus-filled bumps, or inflammation, then a quick visit to a doctor is recommended.

Also, consult your pediatrician if the newborn shows signs of discomfort or pain in the acne area.

Some doctors prescribe 2.5% benzoyl peroxide lotion if the acne does not clear up on its own or after home treatments.

In special cases, some pediatricians also prescribe antibiotics, like erythromycin or isotretinoin, to stop acne from leaving permanent scars.

Most antibiotic treatments are recommended only when there’s an underlying medical condition behind acne.

Acne rarely recurs in newborns, and if they do, it’s better to consult your doctor, for this could be a symptom of some other health condition.

Some rare skin conditions, including adrenal disorder, tumors, and other endocrine system-related health issues, may also cause acne in newborns.

Take away

Almost 20-40% of newborns experience acne as soon as they are born. A newborn’s acne rarely gets severe and disappears on its own within a few weeks.

If you feel that the acne is worsening or not disappearing in a few weeks, consult your pediatrician, for this could be a sign of some other health-related issue.

Was this article helpful?

Hajira is a certified editor, an experienced and thoughtful writer, and a mother of two. Her deliberate passion for writing convinced her to become a writer along with her mom duties. Driven by her passion for writing, she takes pride in providing the best possible. She aims to incite and provoke enthusiasm in her readers.

Leave a Comment