How to treat baby acne

Acne isn't just for teenagers. Here’s what you need to know about baby acne and how to treat it.

Photo: iStockphoto
Photo: iStockphoto

Originally published in 2012.

Contrary to popular belief, babies don’t always have the best skin. A rash, often mistaken for baby acne, can appear in the first few weeks after birth, says  Miriam Weinstein, a paediatric dermatologist at the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto.

But the little red bumps that surface on an infant’s face and upper body are actually caused by a fungus from yeast that naturally occurs on the skin—some babies are just more sensitive to it than others. (The proper name for the condition is cephalic pustulosis, which occurs in about 20 percent of newborns.) “You can treat it medically with antifungal cream or just wait it out,” says Weinstein. Wash your child’s face gently once a day with warm water and pat dry—the rash usually disappears by the time baby is three or four months old.

While true infantile acne does exist, it’s much more rare. “I might treat four or five babies a year for actual acne,” Weinstein says. It usually starts from the time baby is three to six months and can last anywhere from a few months to a couple of years. Possibly triggered by hormones, infantile acne looks like teen acne and includes whiteheads, blackheads and pimples.

The good news is that baby acne often disappears on its own, says Loretta Fiorillo, director of paediatric dermatology at the University of Alberta. In extreme cases, a paediatrician may prescribe diluted forms of benzoyl peroxide or topical antibiotics. “Over-the-counter acne products are too strong for a baby’s delicate skin,” Fiorillo says. The best baby skin care includes using mild cleansers and light moisturizers, and avoiding occlusive creams (like petroleum jelly) that can block baby’s pores. And tempting as it might be, popping little zits is a bad idea because it can lead to an infection and increase the risk of scarring.

A version of this article appeared in our April 2012 issue with the headline: Acne Through the Ages (p. 44).

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