What is Baby Acne?

Question

My one-month-old son's cheeks are very rough. It looked at first like a rash. There are small bumps that are sometimes red and irritated looking, and other times it looks very clear, but the roughness is still there. Is that a rash or is it baby acne? Is there something I can do to treat it?
Beckie Huckle - San Bruno, California

Dr. Greene's Answer

To many parents’ dismay, their beautiful newborn’s face breaks out with red bumps. One of the most common causes for red bumps on an infant’s face is baby acne. It tends to occur at about the same age as the baby’s peak gas production and fussiness. How attractive! (This all coincides with parents’ maximum sleep deprivation.) Parents are often quite concerned both about how these bumps look and about their significance.

In baby acne, these bumps, are quickly fleeting evidence of the connection between your body and your son’s. During the final moments of your pregnancy, your hormones crossed the placenta into your son. Among other things (such as maturing his lungs), this stimulated the oil glands on your son’s skin, eventually giving rise to the baby acne.

Fleshy or red pimples can be present at birth, but typically appear at 3 to 4 weeks of age. They occur predominately on the cheeks, but are also quite common on the forehead and chin. Whiteheads are sometimes present. This condition tends to come and go until the baby is between 4 and 6 months old.

The acne will be most prominent when your son is hot or fussy (increased blood flow to the skin), or when his skin is irritated. If his skin comes into contact with cloth laundered in harsh detergents, or becomes wet from saliva or milk that he has spit up, the condition may appear worse for several days.

Gently cleanse his face once a day with water, and perhaps a mild baby soap. Oils and lotions do not help, and may aggravate the condition. If the acne is severe or lasts beyond 6 months, your pediatrician may prescribe a mild medicine to help.

Otherwise, you can expect that the rash will soon be a memory. The oil glands will disappear, and you won’t see the acne again until you turn around once, and he’s a teenager. This time the acne will be evidence that his own hormones are turning him into a man.

Last medical review on: July 31, 2014
About the Author
Photo of Alan Greene MD
Dr. Greene is a practicing physician, author, national and international TEDx speaker, and global health advocate. He is a graduate of Princeton University and University of California San Francisco.
Get Dr. Greene's Wellness RecommendationsSignup now to get Dr. Greene's healing philosophy, insight into medical trends, parenting tips, seasonal highlights, and health news delivered to your inbox every month.