By Lisa Lewis, M.D.
Your pretty little baby has acne. And you thought puberty was so far away! Turns out, neonatal acne, or pimples, on the face in the first few weeks of life is a perfectly normal part of your newborn's appearance. But where does it come from, and is there anything you can do to get rid of it?
What is baby acne, and where does it come from?
Neonatal acne appears as small red bumps, scattered on the cheeks, forehead, or chin; typically it will not appear on other parts of your baby’s body. The acne looks like a miniature version of the acne you see in a teenager or young adult. The bumps may contain a white substance known as pus, as well. Sometimes the bumps will look white with no red discoloration and are actually whiteheads.
Caused by a withdrawal of pregnancy hormones, baby acne occurs naturally as a consequence of entering the world. During pregnancy, hormones pass from your placenta to your baby, but when your baby is born, those pregnancy hormones abruptly disappear. This prompts an increase in production of the skin’s oil glands, which, in turn, can cause acne.
It’s not uncommon for the drop in pregnancy hormones after giving birth to give new moms pimples, too. Annoying though they might be, resist the urge to use any kind of acne medication while breastfeeding, which can be harmful to your baby. Instead, eat antioxidant-rich foods like leafy green vegetables, berries, and nuts, which will naturally help to clear your skin (and your baby’s skin, too!).
Caring for baby acne
Neonatal acne isn’t painful, and doesn’t need treatment. All your baby needs is time to allow her body to clear out the pregnancy hormones. Once per day, use unscented soap (like baby soap or Dove bar soap) and warm water on your baby’s face to remove excess residue. Gently pat your baby’s face dry with a washcloth or burp cloth that has been washed in mild perfume-free detergent. Avoid washing her face too frequently, using scented products, or scrubbing vigorously, which can cause a rash or irritation. (Learn more about giving your baby a bath here.)
If your baby has a rash that appears uncomfortable or painful, or that seems to have clear fluid in the bumps, this could indicate an infection. If your baby has a rash with any other symptoms such as fever, irritability, runny nose, cough, or fussiness, any of these problems could also be a sign of a sick baby. For these symptoms, contact your doctor promptly for evaluation and care. Never “pop” the pimples. This may cause pain or an infection on the baby’s skin.
When will baby acne go away?
Most of the time, neonatal acne will disappear before the first month of life. Occasionally, some babies keep their acne for 6 to 8 weeks. While it might be difficult to deal with the sight of acne on your baby’s perfect face, don’t worry. If you leave it alone and let it resolve, there is no risk of scarring. Once neonatal acne has disappeared, you won’t see it again until you expect it—at puberty.
Dr. Lewis is a Fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics and is board-certified in pediatrics by the American Board of Pediatrics. She has been practicing as a pediatrician for 17 years and is currently serving the Fort Worth community at Kid Care Pediatrics. Dr. Lewis appreciates writing to help others enjoy current research topics and pro-active healthy parenting.