Baby acne – causes, symptoms and what to do about it

The skin is a very important organ of the body and one of the first to form when the embryo is developing inside the womb.

When babies are born, a substance called vernix caseosa coats the skin, protecting it from infection while in the womb and helping to retain body heat in the hours after birth. Premature babies tend to have more protective vernix caseosa than full term or overdue babies.

In the weeks and months after birth, it is common for babies to develop spots which can be worrying for new parents. One of the skin conditions which causes these spots is baby acne, which often develops at around 2-3 weeks of age and can affect up to 40% of babies. The good news is that baby acne is a temporary ailment and does not cause any pain or discomfort for your little one.

What causes baby acne?

As with adolescent acne, hormones are thought to be mostly to blame. For babies, these hormones come from mum and may still be circulating in the bloodstream after birth. These hormones can have an effect on the sebum/ oil-producing glands, causing little spots to break out on your baby’s face and sometimes on the upper torso. On top of that, babies have very sensitive skin with pores which aren’t fully developed at birth, meaning that dirt can easily get in, causing spots to develop.

What can parents do about it?

As baby acne does not appear to cause any discomfort for babies, the best advice is to leave the little pimples alone. They shouldn’t be squeezed or picked, and you should take care to avoid using any soaps or skincare products which aren’t suitable for your baby’s sensitive skin.

Some mums swear by applying breastmilk directly onto the spots to help them heal and to reduce redness and inflammation of the area, alongside regular cleaning of the area with fresh water at bath time.

Are the spots baby acne or something else?

There are a number of skin rashes and skin conditions that can affect babies. The NHS website provides a helpful guide to rashes here. Some of the most common skin conditions that are often confused with baby acne are:

  • Milia – these are tiny bumps or whiteheads, usually found on baby’s cheeks and nose, caused by trapped keratin from skin tissue, hair, and nail cells. These are often present from birth and are harmless, usually clearing without intervention within a few weeks.
  • Eczema and seborrheic dermatitis (cradle cap) – skin appears dry, flakey and red, usually around the scalp and in areas such as elbow creases and behind the knees. Treatment may be required to soothe the symptoms.
  • Heat rash – this appears as tiny red spots, usually on the torso, caused by your baby becoming hot. Heat rash can be itchy but should clear up without treatment and once baby cools down.

When to consult your GP

If you are at all worried that your baby’s pimples might be something other than baby acne, the spots appear infected, and/or your little one has any other symptoms, you should speak to your GP or health visitor for advice.

How long does baby acne last?

Baby acne usually clears on its own within the first few months of your baby’s life, leaving no permanent scars or damage to your little one’s skin.


Jen Dowding, Baby massage and baby yoga instructor, Basking Babies Laindon & Orsett

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