A Parent's Guide to Infantile Acne (Baby Acne)

What To Do When Your Baby Is Breaking Out

Infant acne
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You're noticing bumps and breakouts on your sweet baby's skin—bumps and breakouts that look suspiciously like acne. But can babies even get acne?

Surprisingly, yes. It's called infantile acne.

Infantile acne appears in babies two months to one year old. Baby boys get infantile acne more often than baby girls.

Infantile Acne Differs from Newborn Baby Acne

Although most people categorize any type of breakout on a little one as "baby acne," there really is a big difference between acne in a newborn and acne in an older baby.

Newborn baby acne (AKA neonatal acne) appears within the first six weeks of life. It looks like fine red bumps and/or whiteheads across the newborn's face or body. 

Newborn baby acne is very common. It almost never needs to be treated. The vast majority of baby acne cases will go away on their own within a few short months.

Infantile acne, on the other hand, is not nearly as common as newborn acne. It first appears when babies are two months or older, but typically between three and six months of age.

Infantile acne is much longer lasting than newborn baby acne. It can last several months to several years. Most cases clear up by the time the child is two years old, although it can occasionally last longer.

Unlike newborn acne, which in most cases is fairly mild and vanishes without a trace, infantile acne can sometimes cause scarring. If it's severe enough, it's also treated with prescription medications.

What Does Infantile Acne Look Like?

Infantile acne looks just like the acne you'd expect to see on a teenager. You'll see blackheads, papules, and pustules. Acne nodules and cysts may also develop, in rarer cases.

Breakouts are typically found on the cheeks, but they can also happen on little chins, noses and foreheads.

The breakouts most often are mild to moderate, but some babies develop more severe, inflammatory acne.

Not all bumps and breakouts are "baby acne," though. There are other reasons your baby might have a pimple-like rash. Heat rash, contact dermatitis, eczema, and keratosis pilaris (and more) can all cause pimple-like bumps, and they are also common in babies and young children. If you notice anything questionable on your baby's skin, it's important that you bring it up with the pediatrician to get the correct diagnosis. Don't just assume it's baby acne.

What Causes Infantile Acne?

Although no exact cause has been pinpointed, there is a general consensus is infantile acne is rooted in the same factors that cause teen acne. Namely, androgen hormones within the body stimulating the sebaceous glands to create more oil. The excess oil plugs the pores, creating impactions called comedones.

Bacteria, which are normal residents of the skin, find this blocked pore a lovely home and begin to multiply. This can irritate the pore, causing redness and swelling—an inflamed pimple.

This doesn't mean your baby has a hormone imbalance; most babies with infantile acne have hormone levels completely within normal range.

Instead, babies with infantile acne are just more sensitive to these hormones.

It's only in very rare cases that babies with infantile acne have abnormally high levels of the hormones that cause puberty. If so, your baby will also have the beginnings of breast development or testicular growth, underarm or pubic hair. Further testing will then be needed and you'll most likely be referred to a pediatric endocrinologist.

There may also be a genetic component. Babies with acne often have parents who have had acne at some point in their lives.

Treating Infantile Acne

The most common course of treatment for infantile acne is the "wait it out" approach.

Since most cases of infantile acne clear up without treatment this is probably what your baby's pediatrician will recommend, especially if acne is mild.

If acne is more severe, or if it's leaving scars, your baby may be prescribed an acne treatment to help get it under control. Infantile acne is treated in much the same way as teen acne.

Some medications that may be prescribed:

Some experts believe that children who have acne as babies are much more likely to have severe acne as teens. Once your child hits puberty, it's worthwhile to keep a close eye on their skin, just in case, and see a dermatologist as soon as you notice any signs of acne breakouts.

5 At-Home Treatment Tips for Your Baby's Acne

  1. Gently cleanse your baby's face, especially after feedings. Use a soft washcloth and plain water, or a mild fragrance-free soap when needed.
  2. Don't scrub at the skin. Your baby's skin is delicate. Scrubbing or vigorous washing won't clear up breakouts faster but will irritate the skin.
  3. Don't pick, pop, or squeeze the blemishes. Let them heal on their own.
  4. Don't try to treat infantile acne yourself with over-the-counter acne medications. These can be very harsh on your infant's skin. Also, they're probably not necessary because acne will likely go away all on its own, without treatment.
  5. Do talk to your pediatrician about your baby's acne. You may also want to consider seeing a pediatric dermatologist if you're baby's acne is severe.

A Word from Verywell

Breakouts can be distressing to you as a parent, but they bother you more than they bother your baby. You didn't do anything to cause your baby's acne. It's a common skin problem and it's not caused by any lack of cleanliness on your part.

Ask the pediatrician the best way to treat your baby's acne, even if it's no treatment at all. If your child's acne is severe, if it's scarring, or if you are at all concerned, talk with the pediatrician. You may also ask for a referral to a dermatologist, pediatric or otherwise, to devise the right treatment plan for your baby.

Remember, though, that this is a passing phase. Enjoy your sweet little one!

Sources:

Serna-Tamayo C, Janniger CK, Micali G, Schwartz RA. "Neonatal and Inflantile Acne Vulgaris: an Update." Cutis. 2014 Jul;94(1):13-6.

Eichenfield LF, Krakowski AC, Piggott C, Del Rosso J, Baldwin H, Friedlander SF, Levy M, Lucky A, Mancini AJ, Orlow SJ, Yan AC, Vaux KK, Webster G, Zaenglein AL, Thiboutot DM.  "Evidence-Based Recommendations for the Diagnosis and Treatment of Pediatric Acne." Pediatrics 2013;131;S163.

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