In this article, we outline the characteristics of baby acne and eczema and explain how to differentiate between them.
What is baby acne?
Baby acne is a common skin condition that affects newborns.
Baby acne, or neonatal acne, is a common skin condition that affects an estimated 20 percent of newborns. It usually resolves without treatment after a few weeks or months.
Baby acne tends to develop at around 2 weeks old, but it can appear at any point before 6 weeks. In some cases, a baby may have acne from birth.
As with adult acne, breakouts of spots and pimples characterize baby acne. These tend to appear on the face, neck, chest, and back.
Parents and caregivers should take a baby to see the doctor if they develop acne after 6 weeks of age, at which stage doctors classify it as infantile acne. Infantile acne usually lasts for between 6 months and a year, but it can persist until the child's teenage years.
Scientists are unsure as to what causes neonatal acne, but they believe that overactive oil glands and testosterone may contribute to infantile acne.
What is eczema?
Eczema refers to a group of conditions that cause red, itchy, and inflamed areas of skin. Eczema usually develops between the ages of 6 months and 5 years, and it affects more than 30 million people in the United States.
Eczema is not contagious, and there is no cure. However, it is most common in children, and some sources estimate that more than half of those with this condition outgrow it by the time they become teenagers.
Types of eczema include:
- atopic dermatitis
- seborrheic dermatitis, or cradle cap
- contact dermatitis
- dyshidrotic eczema
The symptoms of eczema include:
- dry skin
- red or inflamed patches
- dark patches of skin
- rough or scaly skin
- crusty or oozing skin
- areas of swollen skin
How to tell them apart
Although baby acne and eczema can look quite similar, they require very different management. Due to this, it is essential to understand how to differentiate between them.
Eczema can affect more areas of the body than baby acne.
People may mistake eczema for a different type of rash on the skin. For babies under the age of 6 months, eczema will usually appear red and weepy. If it becomes infected, the skin can develop a yellow crust or small lumps that contain pus.
Infantile acne, which is less common than neonatal acne, typically develops between the ages of 3 and 6 months.
Affected areas of the body
The two conditions tend to affect different parts of the body, although there is some overlap.
Baby acne breakouts tend to occur on the:
In the first 6 months of life, eczema will usually appear on the:
Eczema often develops on a baby's elbows and knees at between 6 and 12 months of age.
It will sometimes also spread to other areas, but it does not affect the diaper area. A rash in this area may be diaper rash.
Treatments and home remedies
Baby acne and eczema require different treatments.
Use gentle products and lukewarm water when washing a baby.
Neonatal acne will usually go away by itself within a few weeks or months. It does not generally require treatment.
The American Academy of Dermatology offer the following skin care tips for babies with neonatal acne:
- never use acne wash or treatment unless a doctor advises it
- be gentle and avoid rubbing or scrubbing the affected areas
- use lukewarm water and avoid hot water
- avoid any oily or greasy skin care products
Infantile acne also usually clears up by itself, but this may take significantly longer. It can persist for 6 months to a year, and some children will experience the acne up until their teenage years.
In some cases of infantile acne, a healthcare professional may prescribe antibiotics or creams to prevent scarring.
While there is no cure for eczema, several different treatments can help ease the symptoms. The most appropriate treatment depends on the type, location, and severity of the condition.
It is vital to always speak to a doctor before using home remedies and other treatments on babies or infants.
A doctor may recommend moisturizers to treat mild eczema. These can relieve itching and protect the skin from germs and substances that might irritate it, such as pollution or laundry detergent. Learning to identify triggers and avoid exposure to them can play a significant role in managing eczema.
In more severe cases, a doctor may recommend special soaps, shampoos, or steroid creams.
What else could it be?
People may also confuse other skin conditions, such as erythema toxicum neonatorum and chickenpox, with baby acne or eczema.
Erythema toxicum neonatorum is a harmless skin condition that may occur within the first couple of days of life. It causes small spots and pimple of 1–4 mm in diameter on the arms and legs. Notably, the rash does not appear on the palms of the hands or the soles of the feet. It typically clears up by itself within 5 to 14 days.
Chickenpox is a contagious skin disease that causes a rash of blister-like spots and pimples on the stomach, back, and face. The rash can spread across the whole body and tends to occur alongside itching, tiredness, and fever.
Chickenpox can lead to severe complications in babies, so anyone who suspects chickenpox in a baby should take them to see a doctor immediately.
Baby acne and eczema may look similar, but the treatments and timescales are different, so it is important to know the difference.
Neonatal acne will usually resolve with no treatment within a few weeks or months. Infantile acne may take longer to clear up, but it does not typically need treatment.
Eczema is a long-term skin condition for which there is no cure. It often disappears by the time a child reaches adulthood. Many different treatments are available to help ease the symptoms on a day-to-day basis.