Baby acne

Baby acne is a very common skin rash which usually develops in the first few weeks after birth. It is more common in boy babies than girl babies.

This rash confuses many parents who assume (and not unreasonably) that acne is something which affects adults, especially teenagers.

As a result of this it is easy to assume that a baby will require the same treatment as an adult but this type of acne is different from adult acne.

Baby acne is known by the medical term ‘neonatal acne’.

Symptoms of baby acne

Baby acne appears as a series of blackheads, whiteheads and pustules on the skin. These outbreaks occur on the forehead, cheeks, chin and back and are characterised as small clusters of spots surrounded by reddish skin.

The affected area of skin may be rough textured and sore.

Very often, a baby acne outbreak looks similar to a case of adult acne, e.g. a series of pimples.

Baby acne is usually a mild form of rash but it can look worse if the baby is overheated or upset. Rough fabrics or tight clothing will cause friction and aggravate the rash as will saliva, milk and other baby products.

Vigorous washing and scrubbing plus baby lotions and gels will also irritate an outbreak of baby acne. It is tempting to do this in the hope that it will help to rid your baby’s skin of this rash but it can often have the opposite effect.

Gentle washing with a mild soap is better.

Pattern of baby acne

It is easy to mistake baby acne for another type of skin rash so this might make things easier to understand:

Firstly, baby acne usually develops when the baby is three to four weeks old but then disappears once the baby reaches three or four months old.

Secondly, baby acne is usually confined to one part of the body, e.g. the face, whereas a rash will spread to other parts of the body such as the chest or limbs.

Causes of baby acne

It is difficult to pinpoint an exact cause but experts suggest that it is caused by the transfer of hormones from the mother to the baby during the last stage of pregnancy. These hormones pass from the mother’s bloodstream to the baby via the placenta and are important for the baby’s survival. But they can increase the production of oil from the baby’s sebaceous glands which can trigger an outbreak of acne. Note: excess oil production is an important factor in the cause of adult acne. Other possible causes include:

  • Certain foods consumed by the mother before birth
  • Certain medicines taken by the mother during pregnancy or whilst breastfeeding.
  • Certain medications given to the baby

Can you prevent this?

The answer is no since we cannot prevent the transfer of these essential hormones from the mother to the baby. So it is practically impossible to stop this.

But the good news is it can be treated.

Treatment of baby acne

Many cases of baby acne clear up without the need for treatment, usually after three to four weeks. But you can help to speed up this process.

Clean your baby’s skin on a daily basis by gently washing it with warm water and a mild soap. Then pat it dry.

This is an easy thing to do but there are a few things NOT to do which include:

  • Avoid excessive washing or scrubbing of your baby’s skin and do not use any medicated soaps.
  • Do not apply any over the counter acne products from your pharmacist. These are too harsh for baby skin and can cause further irritation.
  • Do not apply a cream, lotion or gel to your baby’s skin.
  • Do not allow any milk or other baby product to dry on the affected area of skin.

What can also help is changing the brand of washing powder and/or fabric softener to a less harsh one. This is less likely to irritate your baby’s skin.

Complications of baby acne

This is a very common skin condition in newborn babies. But if it doesn’t show any sign of improvement after three months or worsens then see your GP.

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