Baby Eczema vs. Acne: How to Recognize and Treat Them

Soon after your newborn is born, you may notice bumps, rashes, and spots on that fresh, baby-smooth skin. Often, these changes resolve independently in a few weeks, but they can feel alarming for parents. Baby acne is incredibly common, but can often be confused with baby eczema, a skin condition that can cause more discomfort for your newborn. What is the difference between baby eczema and baby acne?

Key takeaways:

Baby eczema vs acne – the difference:

Newborn rashes and bumps, such as baby acne, are common and easily identified by the trained eye. Sometimes skin changes may be a significant condition, such as atopic dermatitis, a type of eczema. Let’s look at the distinguishing features of these two conditions.

Baby eczemaBaby acne
AppearanceSkin forms red scales and bumps which are dry and itchyVisible development of whiteheads
Affected body partsHead, cheeks, elbows, and kneesLocation is generally limited to the face, including the forehead, nose, and cheeks
Leaks fluidYes, and can form crustsNo
Affected age groupDevelops around 6 months to 5 years of ageAppears within the first 2 to 4 weeks of life
Recovery periodMay improve or disappear over time with treatment and flare-up managementResolves by 4 months of age

Causes of baby eczema and acne

Several types of eczema can affect infants. Atopic dermatitis is a recognizable and common type of eczema. Approximately 13% of all children under 18 are affected by atopic dermatitis. Cradle cap, or seborrheic dermatitis, is another eczema common in infants. The exact cause of eczema in babies is not known. Environmental allergens and genetics play an essential role in the development of eczema. Examples of environmental allergens include:

  • Soaps, cleansers, and shampoos
  • Lotions and ointments
  • Dry air
  • Infants with atopic dermatitis are at higher risk for food allergies, even if they are not contributing to the eczema

Eczema can have exacerbations or flare-ups in response to specific triggers. It may take some time to identify your infant’s eczema triggers.

How to treat baby eczema and acne

Baby eczema may require treatment. A consultation with a pediatric dermatologist is an important step. A dermatologist can identify eczema, investigate the triggers, and provide care recommendations. Steroid creams or antihistamines may be prescribed in moderate to severe cases of baby eczema. A dermatologist can also recommend alternative eczema treatments, which may include:

  • Avoidance of triggers
  • Humidification of air
  • Baby formula considerations
  • Dietary changes for the breastfeeding person
  • Mineral baths
  • Vitamin supplementation
  • Prebiotics and probiotics
  • Diet alternations and food allergy testing
  • Natural emollients or moisturizers
  • Natural oils

Baby acne does not often require treatment. Proper bathing techniques and limiting the use of lotions and washes with fragrance will limit skin irritation. Do not attempt to squeeze whiteheads that may form or rub the acne vigorously. Infantile acne may be problematic if it appears after six weeks of age. Evaluation by a pediatric dermatologist may be helpful. A dermatologist will discuss skin care product usage, determine if the skin condition is truly acne, assess whether the acne indicates a more significant health problem, and help prevent scarring.

Can baby eczema or acne be prevented?

It is challenging to prevent baby eczema, especially when genetics and allergies can be causative factors. However, there are many measures you can take to limit worsening and flare-ups in your baby. Identifying and avoiding your baby’s eczema triggers will be the most helpful prevention measure.

Baby acne is a normal newborn skin finding and cannot be prevented. While its appearance may be worrisome, the acne does not bother your baby.

Newborn skin changes can be distressing. While baby acne causes no discomfort for your newborn, eczema can cause significant irritation. Eczema’s appearance may change as your baby ages. Stay vigilant in identifying and avoiding triggers and reevaluating treatments. Speak with your pediatrician about any concerns you have about your baby’s skin.

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