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My newborn has little red and white bumps on his face. Is it baby acne?
Maybe. Baby acne doesn't produce blackheads, but it otherwise looks similar to teenage acne. You'll see white or red bumps or pimples, which may be surrounded by reddish skin. It usually appears on the cheeks, eyelids, and nose, and sometimes on the forehead, chin, scalp, neck, back, or chest.
How many babies get baby acne? When does it show up?
About 20 percent of babies (boys more often than girls) get baby acne, also called neonatal acne. Baby acne can be present at birth but more often shows up after a couple of weeks.
Acne that appears later, say after 6 weeks, is called infantile acne. It's much less common than baby acne, but it can last until your child's second birthday. It may be a sign that your child will deal with acne in his teen years, too. And it can leave scars, if very severe.
Is it baby acne or heat rash? What other kinds of newborn rashes are there?
Your baby's blemishes aren't necessarily acne. Check our visual guide to children's rashes and skin conditions to see other possibilities such as:
- Heat rash: In hot or humid weather, sweat can clog your baby's pores and cause tiny red blisters on the chest and shoulders, and in creases like the armpits, elbows, neck, and groin. Heat rash usually disappears without treatment. To avoid it, try to keep your baby from getting too hot by dressing him in loose cotton clothing in summer and avoiding extra layers (if he seems hot) in cold weather.
- Milia: These harmless, tiny white bumps are the result of dead skin cells trapped under the surface of the skin. They're present at birth in about 40 to 50 percent of babies and disappear within a few weeks. Milia are not related to acne and need no treatment.
- Eczema: These red, rashy patches appear on the face, but eczema can spread to other parts of the body. If the area becomes infected, it might look crusty and yellow or blister and ooze. Eczema is more common in babies with a family history of allergies or eczema. Keeping your baby's skin moisturized and dressing him in loose, cotton fabrics may help, but if the rash doesn't go away and is causing your baby discomfort, his doctor may prescribe medication for it.
- Erythema toxicum: Known as newborn rash, it usually shows up on the second day after birth, though it can be present at birth or appear within the first couple of weeks. The splotchy red rash (sometimes with firm white or yellow bumps) shows up on the face, chest, or limbs. It's very common (about half of all newborns get it), and it usually comes and goes and gradually disappears without treatment in about a week.
- Cradle cap: Those crusty yellowish patches on a baby's scalp are medically referred to as seborrheic dermatitis. Cradle cap usually appears between 3 weeks and 12 months after birth. It goes away without treatment, though you can help it along by softening the scales by gently massaging them with small amounts of a natural oil, then gently combing or brushing, and thoroughly washing away the oil with baby shampoo. Cradle cap might also show up in a baby's creases (armpits, neck, behind the ears, forehead, eyebrows, or diaper area).
What causes baby acne?
There's no clear answer. Experts think it might be an inflammatory reaction to a common type of yeast on the skin, or it might be caused by the hormones that babies receive from their mother at the end of pregnancy. But researchers continue to study other factors and have yet to agree on one cause.
If you take certain medications while breastfeeding, or if your baby takes certain medications, they might trigger baby acne. And in some cases, baby acne can be a reaction to a skincare product, particularly an oily one that blocks pores.
What makes baby acne worse?
Baby acne can be aggravated by:
- Your baby being hot
- Your baby being fussy
- Saliva or spit-up on the skin
- Rough fabric
- Strong laundry detergent
When does baby acne stop?
Baby acne usually clears up within a few weeks, but it can linger for months. It doesn't harm your baby and rarely leaves a scar.
How can I treat my baby's acne?
Some do's with baby acne:
- Wash your baby's face with mild soap and warm water (or just warm water) once a day. Gently pat it dry.
- Have patience. Your baby's acne doesn't bother him, so try not to let it bother you, either.
- Gently wipe off spit-up and saliva from your baby's face, because they can irritate the skin.
- Dab on some breast milk. Some moms say they've had success treating baby acne with breast milk. There's no research to back this up, but because breast milk has antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties, it might be worth a try.
- Use unscented bathing products and lotions. Scents may aggravate your baby's acne.
- Wash your baby's laundry with gentle, unscented detergent. Your baby's delicate skin can easily become irritated by chemicals.
- Dress your baby in soft fabrics that won't irritate her delicate skin.
Some don'ts with baby acne:
- Don't scrub. Baby acne isn't caused by dirt. In fact, too much washing can further irritate your baby's skin, so don't overdo it.
- Don't use over-the-counter acne medicines. Usually no medication is necessary, but if it is, your baby's doctor will suggest an antifungal cream that's safe for your little one.
- Don't put oily lotions on your baby's skin. These can make the acne worse. Some parents report that certain non-oily creams have helped their baby's acne. If you try one, monitor how it affects your baby's skin, and be prepared to stop using it if it makes his complexion worse.
- Don't pinch or squeeze the acne, which can cause infection or irritation.
When should I call the doctor?
- If your baby's acne doesn't go away within several months, or if you're at all concerned about it, mention it at a well-baby visit. The doctor will want to make sure there's no underlying condition causing the acne (this is rare), and she might recommend a mild topical medication to help clear it up if it's severe or long lasting.
- If your baby's acne becomes pus-filled or inflamed, or if he develops blackheads, make an appointment with his doctor right away. These may signal an infection.
- If your baby develops what looks like acne (or any rash) after taking a medication or being sick (with a virus, for example), let your doctor know.
- If your baby develops acne after 6 weeks of age (infantile acne), check with the doctor to rule out a skin infection, eczema, or some other skin problem.
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