New parents often look at every feature of their baby to ensure that he is perfectly healthy, a practice that continues through those initial first months. Although television commercials and magazine articles depict babies with perfectly rosy skin, many babies have skin conditions that can appear as unhealthy but are essentially normal. Baby acne on the scalp is one such condition common among newborns.
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According to The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, about one-fifth of all newborns develop baby acne. This is also referred to as neonatal acne or acne neonatorum, and the condition occurs more often in boys than in girls. Baby acne appears due to presence of maternal hormones from pregnancy during the first month of life. The acne may show on the baby's face, neck or scalp. It can last three to four months, but it can also continue into the toddler stage of life.
Acne on a baby's scalp appears as red bumps that may have a white center. The manifestation of baby acne is similar to that in a teenager or adult. The bumps may look like pustules, or whiteheads, or they may be small and scattered over the scalp. Baby acne on the scalp should not be confused with cradle cap, a scalp condition that produces a scaly, weeping rash.
During pregnancy, maternal hormones pass to the fetus through the placenta. This process supports the growth of the baby and her development. After birth, a small amount of maternal hormones remain in the baby’s body, appearing as a set of conditions that usually shows in a person who has gone through puberty, such as small amounts of breast tissue. The sweat glands of the face and scalp of the baby are immature, and these may react with the maternal hormones still present in the body. This produces blockage and inflammation, resulting in pimples and acne.
Pediatricians typically do not prescribe medication to treat baby scalp acne, as it is a condition that will usually go away on its own. For cases that continue for several months or those that appear particularly severe, medicated creams may be prescribed for treatment. These creams include medications typically used on adolescent acne, such as benzoyl peroxide or antibiotics.
Parents can minimize the presence of baby scalp acne by following basic home instructions. Wash and dry the baby’s hair with a mild shampoo; take care not to scrub the scalp too vigorously. Parents should not try to squeeze or disrupt the pimples. Avoid using creams and lotions on scalp acne, as this contributes to further buildup of sweat secretions. With careful monitoring and proper care of the scalp, baby acne eventually disappears.