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Why do babies get acne, and what are ways to help treat it?

A few different factors can cause this condition in newborns and infants.

Curology Team Avatar
by Curology Team
Updated on Jul 6, 2023 • 7 min read
Medically reviewed by Lauren Fox, PA-C
Baby With Redness on Their Face
Curology Team Avatar
by Curology Team
Updated on Jul 6, 2023 • 7 min read
Medically reviewed by Lauren Fox, PA-C
We’re here to share what we know — but don’t take it as medical advice. Talk to your medical provider if you have questions.

Many people struggle with skin issues during pregnancy—and skin challenges don’t necessarily disappear once your bundle of joy arrives. Your skin may improve postpartum. But believe it or not, babies can have acne too.

Dealing with your newborn’s acne can be frustrating. You may wonder, “Is baby acne normal?” You may also worry if you’re doing something to make the acne worse. And you probably want to find ways to help treat it.

We’re here to put your mind at ease—parenthood is stressful enough as-is! We’ll explain what baby acne is, what causes it, and how you can treat it. Here at Curology, we currently focus on the diagnosis and treatment of acne, rosacea, and anti-aging concerns. We do not treat many of the conditions mentioned in this article. We are not able to treat patients under the age of 13. This article is for information purposes.

Is that acne on my baby’s face?

Many different medical conditions may cause redness and/or bumps on your baby’s face. So first, let’s dive into what acne is.

Red spots on a baby-s face

What is baby acne?

Like adult acne, baby acne occurs when oil glands (sebaceous glands) on the cheeks become clogged, and an inflammatory response is triggered. This appears as tiny white bumps or black spots (whiteheads or blackheads), aka closed or open comedones.¹ You may also see other raised bumps such as papules, pustules, or cysts.²

Baby acne typically happens on the face, but can also occur on your baby’s upper chest or back.³ Baby acne is split into 2 groups depending on the age they are when they develop acne:⁴

  • “Neonatal acne” appears in newborn babies under a month old.

  • “Infantile acne” appears in babies between six weeks and sixteen months of age.

Also, keep in mind that many conditions look similar to acne, and you should always consult a licensed medical provider before treating any condition that you or your infant has. 

What baby acne isn’t:

These skin conditions look similar to baby acne and may require medical attention:

  • Angiofibroma (also known as “fibrous papules”):⁵ This may appear as red or skin-colored bumps on the central face.

  • Folliculitis:⁶ This is a skin infection in the hair follicles. It typically appears as either small red bumps (“papules”) or small red pus-filled bumps (“pustules”). 

  • Keratosis pilaris:⁷ This often looks like red bumpy skin.

  • Milia:⁸ This may appear as small white bumps on your baby’s face.

  • Molluscum contagiosum:⁹ This typically looks like raised, round bumps that are pinkish-purple in color.

  • Perioral dermatitis:¹⁰ This is a common skin rash that can cause small red bumps ("papules") or small red bumps with pus ("pustules") around the mouth.

  • Atopic dermatitis:¹¹ This is a form of eczema and the most common chronic inflammatory skin condition. It usually involves itchy, dry, red skin.

In other words, many different conditions can cause red spots on your baby’s face, so it’s best to see a licensed healthcare provider to figure out the specific issue. If there is acne on your baby’s face, the next question is figuring out what’s causing it.

What causes baby acne?

The exact cause of infantile acne has not yet been determined. Possible causes include a genetic predisposition or increased sebaceous gland activity. It typically resolves on its own.¹²

Red spots all over a baby-s face

If acne appears after six weeks of age, it’s best to see a healthcare provider to figure out the cause.¹³ Once you know what’s causing your baby’s acne, you can determine the best way to help treat it.

How you can help treat baby acne

Infantile acne is usually a temporary condition that clears up on its own in six to twelve months after it starts.¹⁴ Having acne as a baby does increase the risk of adolescent acne.¹⁵ Fortunately, if your baby gets severe acne later in life, there are many great topical treatment options, such as those offered at Curology, or oral medications including antibiotics or oral isotretinoin (aka Accutane)

Home remedies

If your baby does have acne, here are some suggestions you can try at home after visiting a medical provider and having the diagnosis confirmed:

  • Gently wash their face with lukewarm water. Make sure not to scrub the acne.

  • Minimize the use of hats and other headwear that could rub against the delicate skin of your baby’s face.

  • Limit the use of oily products on the baby's face.

  • Try to avoid touching the baby’s face.

Especially if your baby is six weeks or older, it’s best to see a healthcare provider to figure out the cause of the acne.¹⁶ When you’re there, you can discuss medical treatments to resolve it.

Medical treatment options

After your healthcare provider has evaluated your baby and determined they do indeed have acne, they may recommend treatment based on the severity of the baby's acne. Some potential treatments by severity are:¹⁷

  • Mild acne: Topical retinoid, benzoyl peroxide, and potentially a topical antibiotic like clindamycin or erythromycin.

  • Moderate to severe acne: Non-tetracycline antibiotics like erythromycin or triamcinolone injections for nodules or cysts. Oral isotretinoin may be used rarely for severe cases, but that requires close monitoring by a pediatric dermatologist.

There is a lot to learn about baby acne, but here are some brief answers to common questions.

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FAQs

When do babies start getting acne?

There are two different ages when babies may start getting acne. “Neonatal acne” begins in the first four weeks after birth, and “infantile acne” starts between three and six months of age.¹⁸

How long does baby acne last?

Acne in babies typically resolves on its own in six to twelve months. However, infantile acne can lead to scarring and can occasionally be caused by an underlying condition that requires medical attention so it's important to have the baby evaluated by your healthcare provider.¹⁹

How can you get rid of baby acne?

Most cases resolve on their own. However, we recommend seeing your baby’s healthcare provider, such as a pediatrician and/or pediatric dermatologist, for evaluation and medical treatment.

• • •

P.S. We did the research, so you don’t have to:

  1. Poole, C. N. and McNair, V. Infantile acne. StatPearls Publishing. (July 2022).

  2. Poole, C. N. and McNair, V. Infantile acne. Ibid.

  3. Poole, C. N. and McNair, V. Infantile acne. Ibid

  4. Greydanus, D. E., et al. Acne in the first three decades of life: An update of a disorder with profound implications for all decades of life. Disease-a-Month. (April 2021).

  5. Macri, A., et al. Cutaneous angiofibroma. StatPearls Publishing. (September 2022).

  6. Winters, R. D. and Mitchell, M. Folliculitis. StatPearls Publishing. (August 2022).

  7. Pennycook, K.B. and McCready, T. A. Keratosis pilaris. StatPearls Publishing. (June 2022).

  8. Gallardo Avila, P. P. and Mendez, M. D. Milia. StatPearls Publishing. (November 2022).

  9. Badri, T. and Gandhi, G. R. Molluscum contagiosum. StatPearls Publishing. (May 2022).

  10. Tolaymat, L. and Hall, M. R. Perioral dermatitis. StatPearls Publishing. (September 2022).

  11. Kolb, L. and Ferrer-Bruker, S. J. Atopic dermatitis. StatPearls Publishing. (August 2022).

  12. Poole, C. N. and McNair, V. Infantile acne. Ibid. 

  13. American Academy of Dermatology Association. Is that acne on my baby’s face?. (December 2017).

  14. Poole, C. N. and McNair, V. Infantile acne. Ibid. 

  15. Poole, C. N. and McNair, V. Infantile acne. Ibid.

  16. Baldwin, H. and Tan, J. Effects of diet on acne and its response to treatment. American Journal of Clinical Dermatology. (August 2020).

  17. American Academy of Dermatology Association. Is that acne on my baby’s face?. Ibid. 

  18. Poole, C. N. and McNair, V. Infantile acne. Ibid. 

  19. Greydanus, D. E., et al. Acne in the first three decades of life: An update of a disorder with profound implications for all decades of life. Ibid.

Lauren Fox is a certified physician assistant at Curology. She received her Master of Physician Assistant Practice from the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, CA.

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• • •
Our medical review process:We’re here to tell you what we know. That’s why our information is evidence-based and fact-checked by medical experts. Still, everyone’s skin is unique—the best way to get advice is to talk to your healthcare provider.
Our policy on product links:Empowering you with knowledge is our top priority. Our reviews of other brands’ products in this post are not paid endorsements—but they do meet our medically fact-checked standards for ingredients (at the time of publication).
Curology Team Avatar

Curology Team

Lauren Fox

Lauren Fox, PA-C

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