How to treat baby acne safely, according to pediatricians

Baby acne
Baby acne appears as red pustules on the face and body. Tatyana Tomsickova Photography/Getty Images
  • Baby acne can appear on the face and body and looks like red pustules.
  • Babies typically get acne between two to six weeks of age, and it can last a few weeks to months.
  • Most baby acne doesn’t need treatment, but some cases may require an antibiotic or topical cream.
  • Visit Insider’s Health Reference library for more advice.

You’re staring at your baby, thinking they are the most beautiful little person in the whole wide world, when it hits you: your baby is covered in acne.

The sight of a newborn with pimples may be a little unnerving at first, but acne is actually fairly common in babies. Here is more information about baby acne, how to identify if there is a problem, and tips to help clear your little one’s skin.

Understanding baby acne

Lana Gagin, MD, a pediatrician with Spectrum Health says that there are two types of baby acne: neonatal or “newborn” acne and infantile acne.

Neither type of acne is dangerous to your baby’s health. Moreover, Gagin says that most babies with acne are otherwise completely healthy, with no hormonal problems or other health problems.

Newborn acne occurs before six weeks of age

As its name implies, neonatal acne usually develops in the neonate period, which is the first four weeks of a baby’s life. It typically pops up around two weeks of age, but can occur anytime before six weeks.

It looks like small superficial pustules, which usually appear on a baby’s cheeks, chin, and forehead, and more rarely on the neck and upper body. You can identify neonatal acne because it’s usually very mild and doesn’t have any whiteheads or blackheads.

“It gets better on its own within a few weeks or months, usually no treatment is necessary,” Gagin says. And according to the American Academy of Dermatology, it won’t usually leave any lasting scars.

About 20%, or one in five, healthy newborns will develop neonatal acne.

Infantile acne starts later, after six weeks of age

Infantile acne is less common than newborn acne, affecting an estimated 2% of infants. It develops after the neonate period, usually between three and six months of age.

Unlike newborn acne, infantile acne features whiteheads, blackheads, or reddish pimples. If the acne is mild, you can expect it to resolve itself in one to two years with no treatment.

However, if the acne is more severe your infant may need medical treatment. If medication is needed, a doctor might prescribe a medicated cream or gel, that contains benzoyl peroxide to apply on the skin. Or an oral antibiotic, like erythromycin, might be used to manage the acne and prevent scarring.

Although it’s not dangerous to your baby’s immediate physical health, “occasionally, infantile acne may present with cysts which may lead to long term scarring if left untreated,” Gagin says. Moreover, multiple studies report that babies who experience infantile acne have a higher risk of developing severe acne later in life, like during adolescence.

How to differentiate baby acne from eczema

Infantile acne is different from eczema, which is why it’s important to take your baby to a doctor if they develop redness after 6 weeks of age. That way a pediatrician can rule out any other skin or medical conditions.

One key difference between eczema and infantile acne is that eczema will not have any pustules. Instead, eczema will look like rough areas of dry, scaly, or inflamed patches of skin.

If your baby does have eczema, the treatment will be different, so it is important to determine the cause of your baby’s acne before getting treatment. “Eczema treatment requires thorough daily moisturizing and sometimes medicated creams which are different from topical medications used for acne,” Gagin says.

How to treat baby acne

If your baby does develop acne, you can follow these suggestions to help manage it:

  • If your baby first develops acne after they are six weeks old, be sure to schedule a check-up with your pediatrician to rule out any other skin condition.
  • Only use warm water and mild soap for cleaning.
  • Don’t scrub or pick at the acne, because that can cause a skin infection.
  • Do not use any oils on your baby’s face.
  • Don’t use any over-the-counter medications without asking the pediatrician, as some of the products may do more harm than good to the baby’s skin.

Insider’s takeaway

In most cases, baby acne will clear up on its own. And even if your baby does require medical treatment, Gagin says that infantile acne should disappear by the age of two.

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