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What To Do When Baby Has Acne

By Megan Griffith

Reviewed for medical accuracy by Dr. Jaggi Rao,
MD, FRCPC Double board-certified dermatologist

Many proud mommies and daddies are dismayed and frantic when their newborns break out in acne1. Infant acne usually appears at the very time the baby is at his or her peak of fussiness, gassiness, and nighttime sleep deprivation. Photo taking comes temporarily to a complete halt and parents wonder what could have taken over their child that just a few weeks earlier seemed so beautiful.

Acne on a one year old
Baby acne is usually caused by an exchange of testosterone between the mom and infant just before birth.

The Causes Of Baby Acne

Baby acne actually is a natural consequence of the maturation not of the infant’s skin but of the infant’s lungs. About three weeks before birth, the mother’s body sends a pulse of testosterone to the baby still in the uterus to stimulate the completion of the intracostal muscles that the baby will need to breathe outside the womb.

The effects of testosterone on the skin don’t show up until a few weeks after birth. Sebaceous glands at the bottom of hair follicles begin to produce massive amounts of oil2. The newborn’s very first skin cells have just reached the end of their life cycle, so dead skin becomes to accumulate in the pores and trap oil inside.

Babies usually don’t get pimples, but when baby fusses, the flow of blood to the face makes blackheads and whiteheads look red. Most of the time baby acne is most abundant on the forehead, chin, and ears, although babies can transfer just about all their bodily fluids and secretions just about anywhere on their skin.

Bathing Baby To Fight Infant Acne

What can parents do to stop baby acne? The most important step is making sure baby gets a regular bath3.

It’s both unnecessary and harmful to try to scrub infant acne away. Gentle cleaning is enough to dislodge dirt and hardened sebum from the surface of baby’s skin.

It’s also important to avoid hot water. Hot water hastens skin cell death. Flakes of dead skin can accumulate in pores and perpetuate acne when babies are washed in water that is too warm.

And there no need to use soap—especially a soap called Baby Face that is made by cosmetics manufacturer LUSH. Any kind of detergent that makes big bubbles or any soap that contains fragrances can injure baby’s delicate skin. There is usually no need for soap at all, but if somehow your baby manages to get grease and grime on the skin that won’t come off with warm water and a very gentle scrub, a product like Burt’s Bees Baby Soap or Johnson & Johnson Baby Shampoo is OK. Borage Dry Skin Therapy Natural Formula Children’s Lotion by ShiKai is also safe for babies, although quite expensive.

What About Benzoyl Peroxide For Baby Acne?

Many teens and adults fight acne infections with benzoyl peroxide. There is no doubt that benzoyl peroxide will kill4 acne bacteria. The problem usually is that it also dries out and irritates skin. Acne sufferers who use benzoyl peroxide and nothing else to keep acne infections under control usually reach a point that as many new blemishes form under flakes of dead skin as the benzoyl peroxide treatment removes. Benzoyl peroxide spot treatments, however, stay on the skin long enough to take care of infections but not so long that they injure the skin.

The first thing to do before using benzoyl peroxide to treat baby acne5 is to make sure that you are dealing with acne and not some other skin problem such as the following:

  • Impetigo causes fluid-filled blisters instead of pimples.
  • Mongolian spots are brown, gray, or black and blue marks that are common in babies who have brown, black, or Asian skin. They are most common on the buttocks, and they go away on their own6. Many white social workers, doctors, and nurses will mistake a Mongolian spot for a bruise.
  • Stork bites are flat, pink or gray patches of skin that occur in 100% of babies just before birth and about 10% of babies after birth. They go away on their own by the baby’s first birthday.
  • Milia are tiny plugs of protein that clog baby’s pores. They are most common on the tip of the nose. They will fall out of the skin as the baby’s skin grows.

The second thing you need to do before using benzoyl peroxide to treat baby acne is to make sure you have a 2% or 2.5% strength7, and no more than that. Benzoyl peroxide comes in 2% to 20% strength, but even adult skin usually suffers irritation with the concentration is 5% or higher.

You’re better off getting a benzoyl peroxide wash than a benzoyl peroxide gel. For older children, teens, and adults, it’s a good idea to use a gel because it sticks to the skin. Babies, however, have a way of spreading the gel you put on one spot of skin all over their bodies and into their eyes. It’s best to use a rinse or a foam that you very carefully rinse away to treat baby’s pimples.

And before you dunk your baby in acne medicine, make sure it will not cause any skin reactions. Test just dot of the product on the baby’s heel for at least 8 hours to make sure there are no allergic reactions or skin irritation.

Using a benzoyl peroxide wash is simple, although you need to “aim” your washing so that the product drains away from baby’s eyes and doesn’t get into bath water that could be splashed into the baby’s eyes. Jan Marini Skin Research 2.5% Benzoyl Peroxide Wash is a little pricey, but it is a good product for this purpose.

Don’t Use Tea Tree Oil On Baby Acne

Tea tree oil is a great natural disinfectant for acne, but in children under the age of 8, especially in boys, it is known to have estrogenic effects. There have been cases of boys growing breast tissue when they were washed with tea tree oil soap. It’s also important not to use vinegar to treat baby acne, since vinegar is too harsh for infant skin.

What Happens If You Don’t Do Anything About Baby Acne?

Millions of parents don’t do anything to treat baby acne. They just wait. Usually by the age of four months the baby’s skin has grown enough that pores open on their own—and baby acne treatment is no longer necessary.


  1. Is that acne on my baby’s face?. American Academy of Dermatology (Website). Accessed 2019.
  2. O’Connor N.R., McLaughlin M.R., Ham P. Newborn Skin: Part I. Common Rashes. American Family Physician. 2008;77(1):47-52.
  3. Canadian Paediatric Society. Skin care for your baby. Paediatrics and Child Health. 2007;12(3):245-51.
  4. Kraft J., Freiman A. Management of acne. Canadian Medical Association Journal. 2011;183(7):E430-5.
  5. Samycia M., Lam J.M. Infantile acne. Canadian Medical Association Journal. 2016;188(17-18):E540.
  6. Kutlubay Z., Tanakol A., Engýn B., Onel C., Sýmsek E., Serdaroglu S., Tuzun Y., Yilmaz E., Eren B. Newborn Skin: Common Skin Problems. Mædica. 2017;12(1):42-47.
  7. Mills O.H. Jr., Kligman A.M., Pochi P., Comite H. Comparing 2.5%, 5%, and 10% benzoyl peroxide on inflammatory acne vulgaris. International Journal of Dermatology. 1986;25(10):664-7.
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Daisy Reply

One word: Coconut oil.

May 1, 2014 at 4:54 am Reply

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