Learn about this condition and when to consult a pediatric dermatologist about it
Acne works on its own schedule. It just shows up, manifesting as a series of whiteheads or blackheads on oily parts of the skin. Acne is often thought of as a condition of those reaching puberty. And while that’s true, it’s also fairly common among babies, with about 20 percent of all babies developing acne. Acne can develop on babies in the same locations it develops on teens and adults — on the cheeks, nose, back or chest. Although any condition in a newborn can raise alarm in parents, in the majority of cases baby acne runs its course without harm or the need for treatment.
Acne happens in babies for the same reason it happens in adolescents and younger adults. Oil-filled glands near hair follicles get overrun by bacteria, and the resulting mix of dead skin cells, oil and bacteria then approaches the surface of the skin. Blackheads form when the material reaches the surface and oxidizes. Whiteheads develop when the bacterial compound rests just below the surface.
But exactly what causes this excess oil to meet bacteria and form comedones (that’s the scientific word for acne pustules) is a biological complexity with many potential factors. Genetics is thought to be one factor. Another might be hormonal influences, both from the newborn and those from the mother that are still circulating through the baby’s bloodstream after birth.
“Acne is the culmination of many factors,” says Brandi Kenner-Bell, MD, an attending dermatologist at the Ann and Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago and assistant professor of dermatology and pediatrics at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine.
But for most babies, acne should be treated the same way we might treat ourselves — with gentle cleansing and some patience. The most common treatment is simply washing the baby’s face with lukewarm — not hot — water. A dermatologist might suggest a gentle cleansing product, but consult a medical professional first to see what they recommend. For more advanced cases, a pediatric dermatologist might advise a treatment regimen, especially if it looks like scarring is a possibility. If you use a cleansing product, make sure you use one that says it is non-comedogenic (that means it doesn’t cause acne) on the label.
Dermatologists can prescribe a variety of medications to treat acne in babies and may also suggest an anti-inflammatory medication to assist with healing. For most babies, however, the condition comes and goes.
For most babies, acne should be treated the same way we might treat ourselves — with gentle cleansing and some patience.
Research continues into determining if those who have an outbreak of childhood acne are more likely to see a flare-up in their teenage years. Kenner- Bell says that recent studies may indicate that to be the case but that more research is required.
Acne cases in young patients are separated into three categories:
- Neonatal Acne
Usually arrives within weeks of the child’s birth. This relatively harmless variety typically goes away in a few weeks without treatment.
- Infantile Acne
Usually arrives between the ages of 1 and 2. It can persist for one to two years. It’s also not typically of concern to dermatologists, but does come with an increased chance for scarring.
- Early Childhood Acne
Usually arrives between the ages of 2 and 7. Kenner-Bell suggests contacting a health care provider when acne first presents in this age range. Early childhood acne can sometimes be caused by a condition called precocious puberty, in which pubescent hormones arrive earlier than they should. Treatment to get these hormones under control may be warranted, which is why it is recommended to check with a health-care professional.