Understanding Baby Acne

Most people think of acne as something that affects mainly teenagers and, for the most part, that’s true. But did you know acne also occurs in newborns and infants? It’s surprisingly common, too, and it’s estimated that up to 20% of newborns are either born with acne or will develop it within the first 4 weeks of life. What causes baby acne?

There are several theories about what causes baby acne but it’s likely that, as with adolescent acne, it’s a combination of factors1. The condition is more common in boys so it’s thought that androgens (male sex hormones) produced in the adrenal glands and gonads play a role. Babies also excrete more sebum and have enlarged sebaceous glands — another time sebum production ramps up is during puberty, which is one of the reasons it’s so common in teenagers3. Once babies reach about 6 months of age, the sebaceous glands reduce in size and the rate of sebum excretion reduces, at which point the acne will often clear up on its own.

Treatment: What to do about baby acne?

Usually, baby acne is mild and doesn’t require treatment. It’s important to continue with a gentle cleansing and moisturising routine and avoid any vigorous scrubbing — remember, acne is not caused by dirt on the skin and extra rubbing is only likely to irritate and inflame the skin further. You should also avoid reaching for an over-the-counter treatment without talking to a doctor first. The clinical trials for most acne medications focused on patients aged 12 and above, so there’s little known about their safety in babies and infants. If you’re concerned that your baby’s acne is getting more severe, or is persisting beyond 6 months, talk to your doctor about a suitable treatment.

By Josh Townley, PhD.

Josh is a science writer with 10 years experience in the pharmaceutical and skincare world, first developing products in the R&D lab, then registering them in the regulatory department. He has a PhD in chemistry and a bachelor’s degree in forensic science.