Baby Acne: What Causes it & How To Treat Naturally

You’ve been filling up your Instagram feed with pictures of your adorable newborn’s face when all of a sudden, those soft, rosy cheeks start looking more like that of a prepubescent teenager, flecked with pimples and whiteheads. Enter, baby acne.

Don’t fret. This super common skin condition affects more than 30 percent of newborns, according to Seattle Children’s Hospital. The main thing to remember is that it is harmless, and it will go away.

Read on to learn about what baby acne is, what causes baby acne, and how to treat baby acne naturally.

What Is Baby Acne?

Baby acne is a collection of small red bumps, usually found on the face. It is often concentrated on the cheeks, chin or forehead, but can also pop up on baby’s eyelids, chest or neck. Baby acne tends to crop up two to four weeks after a baby is born and should clear on its own in a matter of months.

If your baby does have a break out, know that there are a few other possibilities other than baby acne that it could be. Below are some various skin conditions that are similar to baby acne but require their own diagnosis and set of remedies.

  • Milia: These are tiny white bumps, similar looking to whiteheads, which appear on nose, chin, and cheeks of baby. Milia can be present from birth, unlike baby acne, which sets in later. Milia can also occur alongside baby acne as your baby’s skin adjusts to life outside the womb.  It is more often caused by sloughed off skin cells that get trapped in the outer layer of dermis.
  • Heat Rash: While baby acne is on the face, heat rash tends to appear where the baby is clothed, including on the chest, stomach and neck, but also on the thighs and buttocks. Heat rash looks like a reddening of the skin with lots of tiny red bumps.
  • Eczema: While it can look similar to baby acne, especially when it shows up on the cheeks, its trademark look is red, patchy and scaly dry skin. It is very common in babies, and can also pop up in high-friction areas, like the folds of those tiny little elbows and knees. Eczema can be caused by diet, lifestyle, gut flora balance, dryness and also by genetics, if a parent suffers from eczema.
  • Infection: If the bumps spread beyond face or if baby has a fever or cold symptoms, call your pediatrician immediately as these may be signs of an infection.

What Causes Baby Acne?

Unfortunately, the scientific community hasn’t come to a clear consensus on what causes baby acne. It is clear, however, that baby acne is completely normal, benign, and common. Baby acne shows up on breast fed and formula-fed babies at equal rates and is more common in babies born full-term.

Maternal hormones

Various researchers have suggested it is most likely the result of leftover maternal hormones from birth in the baby’s bloodstream, that cause an increase in oil production. Combine that with immature sweat glands and you have a breakout.

Imbalanced gut flora

Opportunistic gut flora may also aggravate baby acne, according to an article published by the International Chiropractic Pediatric Association.

Babies start developing their gut flora in utero, influenced by mom’s gut health, and continue to grow their flora during delivery and through contact with the wider world. There is a bevy of conditions that can occur from imbalanced gut flora, including inflammation, irritation, and even acne. For more information on probiotic supplementation and treatment for infants, check out our post on probiotics for infants.

How to Get Rid of Baby Acne

Although doctors don’t know exactly what causes baby acne, you can rest assured that it is totally harmless. It causes no pain or irritation for your wee one. Remember: Baby acne is temporary. It nearly always clears up without scarring. If baby acne hasn’t cleared up within three months, contact your doctor.

It is best to keep the skin clean and not to disturb the pimples.

While some natural remedies suggest putting breastmilk on the affected areas, this could possibly contribute to clogged pores because of the difference in pH levels of the skin and the milk, based off an article in the British Journal of Midwifery.

Try to keep baby’s skin clean and dry, and baby acne will clear before long!

When keeping the baby’s skin clean, be mindful of the delicate nature of baby’s skin. The skin is our largest organ and is a permeable membrane. Think of skin as a sponge. It takes in everything we put on it and absorbs it into the body. Baby will essentially “ingest” anything that is put on his or her skin, so it is important to use only natural, safe, and gentle skin care for your baby.

Natural Baby Acne Treatments

Although baby acne itself is as natural as it comes, it’s totally understandable to want to lessen the bumps for those adorable newborn photos (learn how to take your own pictures here). For those of us who don’t want to spend hours color correcting and smoothing in Photoshop, here are some some all-natural treatments and advice for dealing with baby acne.

  • Avoid Overdressing. Infant skin conditions can be exacerbated by overdressing. Trapping too much heat against the skin can cause excessive sweating and irritation, and can even cause the proliferation of bacteria. Of course, in the first few days of life, a newborn has difficulty regulating temperature, which is why skin-to-skin contact with caregivers is so important. No risk of overdressing there!
  • Avoid Excessive Washing. Baby’s pH is delicately balanced. The skin pH at birth is 6.4, but reduces to 4.9 within the first week. For babies born prematurely, this process can take even longer. This acidification helps as a natural antibacterial and a natural protection against infection. Soaps, cleansers, lotions, and other skin products can all disrupt the amazing work your baby’s skin is doing naturally! Some families may choose to use only water to bathe their newborns. In 2002, Sharon Trotter, a practicing midwife in the UK, conducted thorough research and observations to show that babies who were only washed with water for the first month didn’t present skin maladies like baby acne, cradle cap, and other rashes. Her research has been cited multiple times within the British Journal of Midwifery. Here at Mama Natural, we’ve also taken a stand against soap for grown-ups and littles!
  • Use Diluted, Alcohol-free Witch Hazel. Witch hazel is a fantastic natural astringent which can help clear oil from the skin and pores when applied topically as a baby acne treatment. It also works great in homemade baby wipes for a gentle, natural cleanser.
  • Apply Apple Cider Vinegar. Mix equal parts apple cider vinegar and water and apply to affected areas with a cotton ball, then wipe and rinse clean. While you have your bottle of apple cider vinegar out, be sure to check out our list of 101 uses for apple cider vinegar. No matter the question, the answer usually involves apple cider vinegar.
  • Probiotics for Mom and Baby. If you are breastfeeding, keep your diet probiotic rich — think yogurt, sauerkraut, kimchi, kefir, or miso. No matter your dietary needs and preferences, there is a fermented food brimming with probiotics that you and your gut will enjoy! Breast milk encourages good bacteria growth in baby’s gut, and even helps provide the most beneficial strains of probiotics right to baby. It’s a great idea for mom to also take a supplemental probiotic to increase healthy bacteria in her colostrum and breastmilk. There are also a handful of safe and effective ways to give probiotics to your newborn, if you and baby’s healthcare provider decide this is the best course of action. Benefits of supplementing with probiotics can include reduced allergic tendencies, avoiding colic, acid reflux, or diarrhea. Probiotics are administered in powder or liquid form that can be mixed with breastmilk or formula and given to baby, or even put directly on your nipples if you are breastfeeding. If you supplement probiotics for your baby, make sure to monitor for issues like allergy development or altered immune responses. Again, be sure to keep this an open conversation with your pediatrician.

The American Academy of Dermatology has also endorsed the topical application of probiotics to treat acne. Research has found that topically applied probiotics help treat acne in three ways.

1.) Probiotics applied to the skin create a protective shield so that the baby’s immune system doesn’t target and worsen acne.

2.) The probiotics themselves can attack bad bacteria that could be triggering inflammation.

3.) Probiotics have a calming effect on the skin cells to reduce immune responses.

After the study, some participants began experimenting with applying yogurt masks to their skin to recreate the helpful effects of probiotics. This could also be achieved by making a paste with liquid or powder probiotics. However, there has been no research or studies to prove the effectiveness of homemade probiotic masks.

Bottom Line on Baby Acne

Albeit unsightly, baby acne is completely normal and common and poses no risk to your bundle of joy. While it may be tempting to look for a quick fix or treatment of baby acne, the best advice we can give is to be patient and let your baby’s skin do its thing. The human skin has so many built-in protections, fail safes, and processes that are best carried out with minimal meddling. Take time to marvel every precious inch of your baby and know that the baby acne will be gone soon!

How About You?

Did your babies develop baby acne? How long did it last? Please share any remedies that worked for you!

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2 Comments

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  1. I have mild rosacea and have used this serum at part of my night-time skin care routine for over a month.Its pleasant scent, spreads on like silk, absorbs quickly attracks me very much.Its dermalmd serum.

  2. My son had baby acne and cradle cap for quite a while! I tried breastmilk on it and washed his face with water. I used a natural lotion on him as well. However, they used Johnson’s on him at the hospital, so I think I will push for water only on Baby #2’s skin and a much gentler shampoo when it comes to hospital bath time. My son later developed eczema which was triggered by dairy. We tried probiotics for his eczema but it didn’t make a difference. Getting an ear infection and being put on an antibiotic actually cleared up his eczema. :/

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