Written by Shelley Cameron

Baby Eczema vs Acne: What’s the Difference?

Baby Eczema vs Acne: What’s the Difference?
Estimated time to read 4 minutes

There are very few things as shocking to a new parent as learning that your baby’s skin may not be as “baby-soft” as you’ve come to expect. 

Unfortunately, your little one’s sensitive skin is susceptible to a variety of bumps, rashes, and other skin conditions—baby eczema and acne being two of the most common. In this article we compare the two—what causes them, how to tell the difference, and what the treatment options may be. 

What is baby eczema?

Eczema, also known as atopic dermatitis, is an inflammatory skin condition that causes itchy, cracked, inflamed, and rough skin. According to the American Academy of Dermatology, eczema affects up to 25% of children and is often developed during the first year of life.

“While the exact cause of eczema is still unclear, some people have a genetic predisposition to it,” states Dr. Kemunto Mokaya (aka Dr. Kemmy), M.D., Board-Certified Dermatologist. Some research also suggests that gut health may play an important role in the development of eczema. 

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There are also several known triggers associated with the condition, such as: 

  • Dry skin
  • Heat and sweat
  • Dry air
  • Tobacco smoke
  • Certain food and diet choices
  • Allergens, such as pet dander, dust, or pollen
  • Product irritants, such as harsh or fragranced soap, fabric softeners, laundry detergents
  • Rough fabrics, such as wool or synthetic fabrics

What is baby acne?

Acne is another common skin condition that affects about 20% of newborns. It typically develops when babies are 2-6 weeks of age, although some babies are born with it. Acne that develops after 6 weeks of age, known as infantile acne, is less common. 

The exact cause of baby acne is unknown; however, it’s believed to be related to a combination of the mother’s and baby’s hormones.

How to tell whether it’s baby acne or eczema

Baby eczema and acne present themselves differently, in most cases. 

Eczema usually appears as a reddish rash that can be weepy or have some scaling. It’s usually found on the face, cheeks, chin, forehead, and scalp, but often spreads to the elbows and knees as the baby starts to crawl.

Baby acne, on the other hand, appears as small red spots, white pimples, whiteheads, or blackheads. Unlike eczema, these spots are usually individual. “Baby acne usually affects the face—especially the forehead, chin, nose, and cheeks—but it can also affect the neck, chest, and back,” shares Dr. Kemmy. 

Aside from their appearances, a key difference is that eczema almost always itches, whereas acne doesn’t. 

How to treat and soothe your baby’s eczema

Although there’s no cure, there are ways to help treat and soothe eczema in babies. Dr. Kemmy recommends following a gentle skincare routine and focusing on keeping the skin hydrated. 

Some of her recommendations for eczema treatments include the following:

  • Avoid bathing your baby too frequently as it can dry out the skin and lead to flare-ups 
  • Use a gentle cleanser and lukewarm water to wash the baby
  • Keep baths short (10-15 minutes or less)
  • Filter bath water to reduce chlorine and other minerals that can dry out the skin (We love this Bath Ball Filter)
  • Gently pat your baby dry with a soft towel, instead of rubbing
  • Apply moisturizer to damp skin right after the bath
  • Reapply moisturizer several times throughout the day 
  • Use a mild over-the-counter corticosteroid, such as hydrocortisone, as needed 
  • Watch out for foods that may be causing flare-ups, which often includes common allergens. All of our purees are free from these common allergens. Try one of our variety packs, such as our Meat and Veggie Variety Pack. This is also a great time to help expand your little one’s palate during their critical flavor window
  • Don’t neglect gut health even for babies and toddlers. Our bone broth purees are nutrient-rich and packed with gut health benefits. Read more about why we love bone broth for gut health and immunity. 

Choose a moisturizer that is fragrance-free and hypoallergenic to reduce the risk of further irritating the skin. Aim for a thicker moisturizer, which will typically be more effective for soothing your little one’s dry, itchy skin. 

How to treat your baby’s acne

Most of the time your baby’s acne will resolve on its own, but there are steps you can take that may help speed the process along. 

Dr. Kemmy suggests the following tips to help treat acne in babies:

  • Cleanse the affected areas twice daily with a gentle cleanser
  • Be gentle and avoid rubbing or scrubbing
  • Use lukewarm water 
  • Use oil-free and non-comedogenic moisturizers that won’t clog pores
  • Don’t use over-the-counter products intended for teenage or adult acne, such as products that contain salicylic acid, benzoyl peroxide, or adapalene, unless directed by your health professional—they will be too harsh for the baby’s skin

When to contact a healthcare professional

“If at-home measures aren’t working and the eczema/acne seems to be worsening or affecting quality of life (e.g. baby isn’t able to sleep because of excessive scratching), it may be time to contact a healthcare professional,” advises Dr. Kemmy. “It’s also important that you watch out for large acne lesions that are painful and seem to be worsening.”

Article written by Jennifer Wirth, a professional health writer, leveraging her scientific background as a Chemical Engineer to uncover the most interesting aspects of infant nutrition, pregnancy, and parenting. As a wife and mother of three young children, Jennifer is passionate about providing the best possible nutrition for her family. She believes that developing healthy eating habits early helps build the foundation for a long, fulfilling life.

All content within this site is not intended as medical diagnosis or treatment and should not be considered a substitute for, nor does it replace professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you have any concerns or questions, you should always consult with a physician or other healthcare professional.

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