No one’s really prepared for their newborn’s first rash. If you’re anything like me, when your first child was born, you were relieved to have survived pregnancy and birth, and astounded that – after nine months of hormonal havoc and anticipation – they wheeled you out of the hospital with a baby in your arms. No one from security stopped you with questions. There were no parenting tests you had to pass. Most hospitals send you home with information books, lists of pediatricians (in case you didn’t thoroughly interview all those in your area before birth), and some spare diapers and formula.
In those moments in the wheelchair at discharge, I felt a mixture of excitement and fear. But, when I looked down at my newborn daughter’s sleeping face with her baby-soft skin, her peacefulness was a little contagious. I’d done my homework, the crib was ready to go, my mom was staying with us – and my baby was the most beautiful creature I’d ever seen. For the next couple weeks, whenever I felt stressed or scared or tired, just looking at her creamy skin, and inhaling her sweet smell calmed me. One morning, when my daughter was about 3 weeks old, she woke up with what looked like a pimple on her sweet, perfect little face.
Of course it was the day we had a newborn session booked with a photographer. I really didn’t expect skin imperfections for another dozen years. I considered my options. Was it really a pimple? Should I pop it? Buy zit cream? Use cover-up foundation? Throughout the day, in my sleep-deprived manic state, I went back and forth and finally canceled the photo shoot. It’s a good thing too – the single pimple multiplied exponentially over the next few days, spreading like ugly, puss-filled weeds.
What is newborn acne?
Finally, at our 4-week well-baby check, our pediatrician told me it was newborn acne. Apparently, the mother’s hormone levels cross the placenta right before birth, stimulating the baby’s oil glands. Many newborns develop acne at 3-4 weeks (though it can start before), and it usually goes away on its own by the time baby is about 6 months old. While there’s not much we can do to get the acne to disappear, there are many ways we can make it worse.
A hands-off approach to newborn acne
- Avoid popping, squeezing, or scrubbing the acne. As tempting as it might be, squeezing pimples causes irritation and inflammation, making them look and feel worse without actually speeding healing time.
- Use gentle cleansing products made specifically for babies unless otherwise advised by a pediatrician or dermatologist. Don’t use harsh acne cleansers meant for teens or adults.
- Laundry detergents, fabric softeners, baby wipes, and lotions may contain harsh chemicals that irritate your baby’s skin. Pay attention to what causes irritation and try to eliminate it from your routines (hint: this likely means your entire household should switch detergents).
- If your baby’s face seems dirty, wipe it gently with a warm, damp cloth and pat dry. You can do this up to twice daily if needed.
- Remember that newborns don’t get very dirty – you shouldn’t use soap every day. Wash baby’s skin with warm water and a mild, moisturizing (baby) facial soap several times per week.
- Pat baby’s skin dry gently – don’t rub!
- Take a lot of pictures in the first couple of weeks, before the typical onset of newborn acne! Also, as with teenagers and adults, the acne may clear up a bit, and then come back. Those clearer days are photo opportunities! Also remember that your baby’s hands and toes are photo worthy!
- Keep in mind that newborn acne is natural, and quite common. Chances are, most people you meet won’t notice it nearly as much as you.