Ask Dr. Sears: Baby Breakouts

Q. What could be causing the tiny blisters my newborn sometimes gets on her cheeks and nose?

A. I often hear this from parents when they bring their infant in for a 1-month checkup: “My beautiful baby’s turned into an ugly duckling overnight.” But rest assured: Though your baby may not look her best right now, a breakout is perfectly normal.

Infants are prone to skin eruptions. Tiny whiteheads (called milia) are caused by the leftover maternal hormones that overactivate the oil-producing glands and plug them up. A more inflamed version of milia—baby acne—is brought on by the same thing. Both frequently pop up on the cheeks, nose and forehead and clear up by around the sixth week. But as you wait for the skin to heal, keep the area clean by gently washing it with warm water and a mild lubricant (a soap with a high percentage of emollients, like Dove or Neutrogena, for instance). Don’t apply the creams used to treat adolescent acne—they’re usually too strong for an infant’s delicate face.

Winter can be especially tough on newborn skin. In the months of dry central heating, your baby is also susceptible to prickly heat rash, a skin irritation caused by overactive sweat glands. The red pimples that characterize it don’t have the blistery or puslike appearance of milia or baby acne. And it tends to strike particularly sweaty areas—like those cute little skin folds—rather than the face. To prevent your baby from getting heat rash, do your best to keep those sensitive areas clean, apply a protective, hypoallergenic lanolin-based ointment and try to resist the temptation to overbundle her.

To treat it, I recommend gently dabbing the affected area with cool water or a baking-soda solution (one teaspoon to a cup of water). After that, gently blot it dry.

Learn more about how to take care of your baby’s skin with these 5 tips.