Many parents expect their newborn’s skin to be flawless. But most babies are born with some bruising, and skin blotches and blemishes are common.
Young infants often have dry, peeling skin, especially on their hands and feet, for the first few weeks. Some blueness of the hands and feet is normal and may continue for a few weeks.
Rashes also are common, even into the toddler years. Most rashes and skin conditions are treated easily or clear up on their own. Here are some common skin conditions in babies.
Milia is the name for tiny white pimples or bumps that appear on the nose, chin and cheeks. Although they appear to be raised, they are nearly flat and smooth to the touch.
If your baby has milia, you can wash his or her face once a day with warm water and a mild baby soap, but avoid using lotion, oils or other products. It’s also important to leave the skin alone — never scrub or pinch the bumps. Milia disappear in time, often within a few weeks, and they don’t require treatment.
Baby acne (neonatal cephalic pustulosis) refers to small red and white bumps that are seen on the face, neck, upper chest and back of some newborns. The pimples are generally most noticeable within the first few weeks after birth.
To care for baby acne, place a soft, clean receiving blanket under baby’s head and wash his or her face gently once a day with mild baby soap. Avoid lotions, oils and other treatments and never scrub, squeeze or pinch the affected skin. The condition typically disappears without treatment within the first couple of months, without scarring. If it doesn’t clear up after a few months, talk with your child’s medical provider.
Erythema toxicum is the medical term for a skin condition that’s typically present at birth or appears within the first few days after birth.
It’s characterized by small white or yellowish bumps surrounded by pink or reddish skin. The condition causes no discomfort and isn’t infectious. Erythema toxicum disappears in several days, although sometimes it flares and subsides before completely clearing up. Treatment isn’t necessary.
These small spots look like yellowish-white sesame seeds that quickly dry and peel off.
They may look similar to skin infections (pustules), but pustular melanosis isn’t an infection and disappears without treatment.
The spots are commonly seen in the folds of the neck and on the shoulders and upper chest. They’re more common in babies with darker skin.
Cradle cap (infant seborrheic dermatitis) refers to a scaliness and redness that develops on a baby’s scalp. It results when oil-producing sebaceous glands produce too much oil.
Cradle cap is common in infants, usually beginning in the first weeks of life and clearing up over a period of weeks or months. It may be mild, with flaky, dry skin that looks like dandruff, or more severe, with thick, oily, yellowish scaling or crusty patches.
Shampooing with a mild baby shampoo can help with cradle cap. Don’t be afraid to wash your baby’s hair frequently. This, along with soft brushing, will help remove the scales. If the scales don’t loosen easily, rub a few drops of mineral oil onto your baby’s scalp. Let it soak into the scales for a few minutes, and then brush and shampoo your baby’s hair. If you leave the oil in your baby’s hair, the scales may accumulate and worsen cradle cap.
If cradle cap persists or spreads to other parts of your child’s body, especially in the creases at the elbow or behind the ears, contact your baby’s medical provider, who may suggest a medicated shampoo or lotion. Cradle cap isn’t usually uncomfortable or itchy for your baby, but sometimes a yeast infection can occur in the affected skin. In this case, the skin will become very red and itchy. If you notice this, mention it to your baby’s medical provider.
Eczema, also known as atopic dermatitis, is marked by dry, itchy, scaly red patches of skin that are often found around babies’ and toddlers’ elbows or knees. Sometimes the affected area is small and doesn’t bother a baby much, and treatment isn’t necessary. Many children outgrow eczema.
In other cases, eczema can cover a lot of skin and be extremely itchy and uncomfortable. In these cases, talk with your child’s medical provider about whether treatment is needed. You can also try the following methods to prevent eczema from recurring:
- Use fragrance-free baby soaps to wash your child and laundry detergents that are free of fragrances, dye and deodorants. Even “mild” baby soaps may have a small amount of fragrance that can irritate sensitive skin.
- Dress your little one in soft, cotton clothing, and avoid synthetic fabrics and wool.
- Bathe your baby daily with a fragrance-free hypoallergenic bath oil. This can help moisturize your baby’s skin, in addition to helping prevent skin infections, which are more common in children with eczema.
- Use a fragrance-free moisturizer or ointment such as petroleum jelly right after patting baby dry following a bath. This helps lock moisture from the bath into baby’s skin.
- Keep your child away from environmental triggers for eczema, including heat and low humidity.
- Check your child’s sleeping conditions and ensure that the area is free
- of dust and upholstery that may contain dust mites.
Contact dermatitis and ‘drool rash’
Contact dermatitis is a kind of skin inflammation that occurs when substances touching your child’s skin cause irritation or an allergic reaction. The resulting red, itchy, dry or bumpy rash isn’t contagious or life-threatening, but it can be very uncomfortable.
Culprits for young children could include soaps, laundry detergent, rough fabric or even your baby’s own drool (sometimes referred to as drool rash).
If you can identify the offending agent and eliminate contact between it and your child, the contact dermatitis should clear up. Often, using an absorbent bib and changing it frequently, as well as applying a barrier cream such as petroleum jelly to the area of irritation, can help prevent the rash from worsening. In the meantime, a wet compress may help comfort your baby. Contact your child’s medical provider if the rash is severe or gets worse or if your baby’s skin is oozing or extremely itchy.
Impetigo is a highly contagious skin infection that mainly affects infants and children. It usually appears as red sores on the face, especially around a child’s nose and mouth.
The sores may be covered with a yellow brown scab or crust, or they may grow into blisters and pimples and ooze pus.
Although impetigo commonly occurs when bacteria enter the skin through cuts or insect bites, it can also develop in healthy skin. Because impetigo can sometimes lead to complications, your child’s medical provider may choose to treat impetigo with an antibiotic ointment or oral antibiotics.
This content originally appeared in the Mayo Clinic Guide to Your Baby’s First Years.
Walter J. Cook, M.D.
Dr. Cook is a specialist in general pediatric care within the Department of Pediatrics, Mayo Clinic Rochester, Minn., and an assistant professor at the Mayo Clinic College of Medicine and Science. A father of three, including twins, he has cared for thousands of babies in more than 25 years of pediatric practice.
Kelsey M. Klaas, M.D.
Dr. Klaas is a pediatrician in the Division of General Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine at Mayo Clinic Children’s Center in Rochester, Minn. She is the mother of two children who brings both a medical and new parent perspective to her practice and writing.