Can a newborn have acne?

My little baby girl is one week old. She has developed what seems to be a severe acne. Is this normal? What can we do?

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Robert Steele

Robert W. Steele, MD, is a board certified pediatrician at St. John's Regional Health Center in Springfield, MO. He graduated from medical... Read more

Baby acne is completely normal. It is primarily caused by hormones passed through the placenta prior to birth.

Babies may be born with or develop a number of "normal" rashes. Unfortunately, some of these rashes may seem unsightly especially when they get worse over the first couple of weeks of life. Baby acne is one of these rashes.

The last trimester of pregnancy is full of activity with respect to what mom passes on to baby. A large amount of calcium is transferred during this time. The same is true for iron. However, something else is given through the placenta -- hormones. The pregnancy is supported by a large sustained amount of hormones. And labor is triggered and sustained through hormones as well. With mom's bloodstream packed with these hormones, they can't help but be passed on through the placenta to the infant.

These hormones may cause some changes in the newborn. There are three quite common things they may do:

  1. Breast enlargement -- Babies may be born with breast buds because the amount of estrogen that they have gotten from mom
  2. Vaginal bleeding -- In baby girls, the estrogen they are exposed to causes the lining of the uterus to develop. So, when these hormones begin to go away, the infant may have some vaginal bleeding as if having a period. This lasts for about a day and doesn't come back until she goes through puberty later in life.
  3. Acne -- Just as a teenager begins to have acne due to hormones he or she is producing because of puberty, an infant may have the same skin effects from the hormones she got from mom. These hormones increase the amount of sebum produced in the hair follicles which when blocked cause pimples.

The good news is, the acne will pass as the hormones are metabolized and leave the body. The bad news is this may take several months and there isn't anything you can do to prevent the pimple formation. It is not caused by the pores being blocked by dirt, so vigorously scrubbing your baby's face will not help. Just love your baby as I know you do, wash her normally with a mild soap, and realize her skin will soon become gorgeous again in the following month or two.

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