Babies have sensitive skin and can develop a number of minor but unsightly skin conditions. Often babies will develop patches of small bumps on their faces and these can be either baby acne or milia. Both conditions are common and, though they look unpleasant, they are both harmless. Knowing how to recognize and treat these simple conditions at home can save an unnecessary trip to the doctor.
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Newborns, especially baby boys, often develop patches of red bumps on their cheeks, chins and foreheads during their first three to four weeks of life. The bumps are brightly colored and can be mistaken for a rash or bug bites. They often appear more inflamed when the child is crying, leading parents to believe the baby is crying because of the outbreak. In reality this baby acne is a common and painless condition in newborns. It is caused by hormonal changes that took place during the mother's pregnancy. Rarely this can be an indication of a hormonal problem in the baby, but most often it is a normal response to life outside the womb.
There is a similar skin condition that frequently occurs in newborns and is mistakenly called baby acne. In this case the baby has white bumps rather than red and these bumps are called milia. They are also called "milk bumps" because they appear similar to a spray of milk on the child's face. The bumps are typically on the nose, chin and cheeks but may occur on other parts of the body. When the bumps appear inside the baby's mouth they are a special type of milia called Epstein pearls. Milia are caused when small flakes of skin become trapped in pockets in the surface of the skin. They are not painful or irritating to the child.
Although milia and baby acne are different conditions they have several things in common, including treatment. The best treatment for these conditions is to do nothing. They are normal responses of a baby's skin and will go away on their own. Both conditions should disappear on their own within a few weeks without any scarring or other permanent effect. Stubborn cases may last for a few months. When washing the baby's face, parents should wipe gently and not scrub or pinch the bumps because such vigorous action could cause irritation or infection. Any attempts at treatment such as lotions or oils can cause the conditions to last longer.
In rare cases, baby acne can be indicative of underlying hormonal problems. If the red bumps persist for more than three months, discuss it with your pediatrician at the baby's next regular appointment.