Baby Eczema vs. Acne: Similarities and Differences Explained

Medically Reviewed By Amanda Caldwell, MSN, APRN-C

Baby eczema and acne can look similar. Both conditions can cause bumps and skin discoloration. However, baby eczema may also cause dryness and itching. It may also extend to other areas of the body, such as the skin folds. Neither baby eczema nor acne are serious, but they can be irritating for the baby. Baby acne may go away on its own. Baby eczema may require topical treatments, such as moisturizers or mild steroid creams.

This article discusses the differences between baby eczema and acne. It also looks at why they develop and treatments for the conditions.

What are the signs and symptoms of baby eczema and acne?

A woman holding her baby
Pekic/Getty Images

Though baby eczema and acne can appear similar, there are some distinct differences.

A pediatrician or pediatric dermatologist can confirm what’s causing the rash or bumps. However, here are some common signs and symptoms.

Baby eczema

Eczema is a common condition in babies and may appear anywhere from birth to 2 years of age Trusted Source PubMed Central Highly respected database from the National Institutes of Health Go to source . It can cause signs and symptoms such as:

  • itching
  • dry skin
  • bumpy rash
  • fluid leaking from the lesions

Baby eczema can affect the:

  • face
  • scalp
  • trunk
  • extremities
  • places where the skin folds

For babies with lighter skin tones, the affected skin may look pink or red. For babies with darker skin tones, the affected area may appear lighter or darker than the unaffected skin.

Learn the differences between cradle cap and eczema

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Baby acne

Baby acne can be subdivided into two types based on age: neonatal acne and infantile acne.

Neonatal acne affects babies under Trusted Source PubMed Central Highly respected database from the National Institutes of Health Go to source 6 Trusted Source PubMed Central Highly respected database from the National Institutes of Health Go to source weeks of age Trusted Source PubMed Central Highly respected database from the National Institutes of Health Go to source . It causes inflamed bumps to develop and typically resolves within a few weeks to months. These lesions usually appear on the cheeks and nose. However, they may also affect other parts of the face as well as the head, neck, and torso.

Infantile acne affects babies ages 6 weeks to 12 months Trusted Source PubMed Central Highly respected database from the National Institutes of Health Go to source . The bumps typically appear on the face but may also develop on the chest and back.

Both neonatal and infantile acne can cause a variety of lesions, including:

  • closed or open comedones, often called whiteheads or blackheads
  • papules, or small, raised bumps that don’t contain pus
  • pustules, which are similar to papules but do contain pus
  • cysts, which are painful bumps that reach deep into the skin

What do baby eczema and acne look like?

View the pictures below to see what baby eczema and acne look like.

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Baby eczema commonly affects the face and head but may also extend to the trunk and skin folds of the extremities.

Miljan Živković/Getty Images

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Baby eczema can be severe, causing extreme skin dryness and discoloration.

Gzzz, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

3-acne-baby-body1-300x169.jpg

Bumps associated with baby acne often affect the face and will typically resolve on their own.

Cavan Images/Getty Images

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Baby acne usually doesn't require treatment.

selbst erstellt, 2008/Wikimedia Commons

What causes baby eczema and acne?

While baby eczema and acne may appear similar, they are not related and have different causes.

Baby eczema

The cause of baby eczema is not fully understood. However, researchers believe Trusted Source PubMed Central Highly respected database from the National Institutes of Health Go to source it may be due to a combination of genetics, environmental factors, and atypical immune system activity. These factors may disrupt a baby’s skin barrier, making the skin more susceptible to infections or abnormal reactions to irritants.

Baby eczema can be a sign of what doctors call the atopic march. This describes a common progression from dermatitis to other allergies and asthma.

Baby acne

Like eczema, the cause of baby acne is not well understood. Overproduction of sebum, or oil, in response to the baby’s hormone levels may be Trusted Source PubMed Central Highly respected database from the National Institutes of Health Go to source involved. It may also be Trusted Source PubMed Central Highly respected database from the National Institutes of Health Go to source caused by an inflammatory reaction to Malassezia, a type of yeast that is found on the body.

What are the treatments for baby eczema and acne?

Treatment is not always necessary. However, both over-the-counter (OTC) and prescription treatments can relieve the symptoms of baby eczema and acne.

Baby eczema

The American Academy of Dermatology Association (AAD) provides some tips for managing baby eczema:

  • Avoid triggers: Try to identify what may be triggering your baby’s symptoms and avoid them when possible. Common triggers include:
    • pollen
    • pet dander
    • skin care products containing fragrances
    • some baby powders and wipes
  • Moisturize: Keep your baby’s skin moisturized with a gentle, unscented product.
  • Use topical medications: Your pediatrician may recommend mild steroid creams to reduce inflammation and itching.
  • Try bleach bath therapy: Only for severe cases of baby eczema, diluted bleach baths may help reduce inflammation and bacteria on your baby’s skin. Follow your pediatrician’s instructions closely.

Baby acne

Baby acne often resolves on its own and may not require treatment. However, if the acne develops when your baby is 6 weeks or older, contact your pediatrician. In some cases, it may take months or even years for the acne to go away.

Only use acne treatments your baby’s doctor specifically recommends. These may include Trusted Source PubMed Central Highly respected database from the National Institutes of Health Go to source treatments such as a 2.5% benzoyl peroxide lotion for severe or persistent acne.

Treat your baby’s skin gently, using non-irritating products and lukewarm water when bathing. Do not scrub the acne.

Learn 7 ways to soothe your newborn’s sensitive skin.

Summary

Baby acne and eczema are common skin conditions. Though they may not be serious enough for treatment, contact your pediatrician or pediatric dermatologist if symptoms persist.

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Medical Reviewer: Amanda Caldwell, MSN, APRN-C
Last Review Date: 2023 Jun 5
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