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Understanding Baby Acne: A Guide for Parents

Mar 19, 2024
newborn baby looking at the camera

As new parents closely monitor every aspect of their newborn's health, the appearance of small, red bumps on their baby's skin can be a source of concern. However, this common condition, known as baby acne, is typically harmless and temporary.

What Is It?

The medical term for baby acne, erythema toxicum neonatorum, might sound alarming, but it’s a benign condition affecting many newborns. It is characterized by small, red bumps, sometimes with a white center, appearing on the cheeks, nose, and forehead. These usually develop within two to four weeks after birth and may look worse when your baby is crying or fussy.

What Causes Baby Acne?

The cause of baby acne is not fully understood, but it's likely related to hormonal changes. Certain hormones pass from mother to baby through the placenta while your infant is in the womb. They stimulate oil glands, which lead to the acne. These same hormones can also cause breast development, even in boys. However, your baby is not making new hormones, and the ones passed from mom slowly fade away over several weeks to months. When this happens, the acne (along with breast development) goes away… until puberty, when your child makes hormones of their own.

Treating Baby Acne

The best treatment for baby acne is time. Most cases resolve on their own, and parents can simply clean the affected area with water and mild baby soap. Avoid using oils or lotions because these can make the acne worse. It’s also important to keep your baby’s fingernails trimmed. Scratching the acne can leave micro-abrasions, which may lead to surface bacteria causing a skin infection.

Can This Be Prevented?

Not really. Since baby acne is a natural result of hormonal change, there are no specific ways to prevent it. Watch for signs of infection, such as increasing redness, swelling, tenderness or drainage. If these occur, your infant should be seen by their doctor.

Baby acne is common and temporary. While it can be worrying for parents, understanding the cause as a normal part of infancy should provide reassurance. With patience and gentle care, baby acne will soon clear, leaving your child’s skin healthy and smooth.

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Featured Expert

Nationwide Children's Hospital Medical Professional
Mike Patrick, MD
Emergency Medicine; Host of PediaCast

Dr. Mike Patrick is an Assistant Professor of Pediatrics at the Ohio State University College of Medicine and Medical Director of Interactive Media for Nationwide Children's Hospital. Since 2006, he has hosted the award-winning PediaCast, a pediatric podcast for parents. Dr. Mike also produces a national podcast for healthcare providers—PediaCast CME, which explores general pediatric and faculty development topics and offers free AMA PRA Category 1 Credit™ to listeners.

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700 Children’s® features the most current pediatric health care information and research from our pediatric experts – physicians and specialists who have seen it all. Many of them are parents and bring a special understanding to what our patients and families experience. If you have a child – or care for a child – 700 Children’s was created especially for you.