Babies can develop many types of skin conditions shortly after they are born. A lot of these conditions last only a short time and will go away. Others, however, are birthmarks that may not be visible at birth but will stay with babies throughout their lives.
Newborn baby skin conditions
Below is a description of newborn babies' most common skin conditions.
Desquamation (say: des-kwa-may-shun), or skin peeling, is something that affects a lot of babies in the first few days of life. It is completely normal.
How to treat it: Apply moisturizer to the skin.
This is a crusty greasy scalp rash that commonly occurs in the newborn and slightly older babies. It happens when there is a build up of sebum (an oily substance produced by glands in the skin) that, in turn, makes skin cells stick together instead of shedding normally. It can occur on the scalp alone or with a diaper, neck, or underarm rash.
How to treat it: Apply mineral oil or petroleum jelly to loosen the crusts. If this is not enough, your doctor can recommend other treatments. Cradle cap usually clears up within a few weeks to months.
These are small white bumps on the baby's face. They look like whiteheads, but they are small cysts filled with sebum and keratin (a type of protein that makes up the outer layer of skin as well as a person's hair and nails). Sometimes milia are present in the gums. They are very common during the first few days of life and go away eventually without any treatment.
This is what we commonly call "prickly heat" or "heat rash." It has many different appearances: you could find tiny red bumps or little blisters filled with fluid or pus, usually on the baby's chest or back, underarms, or neck. It happens when sweat ducts on the skin become blocked. It sometimes appears after intense heat or if the baby is too bundled up. The rash eventually disappears on its own without any treatment.
This is a very common rash for babies. It occurs mostly on the nose and forehead and looks like pimples or blackheads. Newborn acne is thought to happen when either the mother's or the baby's hormones cause the baby's glands to produce more sebum. Sometimes this acne is also caused by yeast that lives on the skin. The rash usually goes away on its own in the first few months, but treatment may be needed in some cases. Your doctor can tell you if it needs to be treated.
Erythema toxicum (say: er-ith-em-a tox-ik-um) occurs in the first 3 to 5 days after birth. It is a rash of small red dots (although some can have a central white dot) that usually appears on the chest, back, face, and arms. This is a normal reaction in babies' skin and it goes away in a few days.
Transient pustular melanosis
Transient pustular melanosis (say: tran-zee-unt puss-tu-lar mel-an-oh-sis) is a type of rash that is more common in darker-skinned babies. It appears from birth as tiny white raised bumps on a baby's neck, chest, back, or buttocks. The bumps will go away on their own, but sometimes they leave slightly darker marks on the skin.
Many babies are born with birthmarks, some of which can be worrying for parents. Some birthmarks disappear over time, while others stay remain with the child for life. Below are descriptions of the most common types of birthmarks.
An infantile hemangioma (say: he-MAN-jee-oh-ma) is the most common birthmark made of blood vessels. It happens when groups of blood vessels grow rapidly, much faster than any other part of the baby's body. In the past, it was called "strawberry hemangioma" because it is sometimes bright red and raised and can look like a berry. Some hemangiomas occur deeper in the skin and might look like a skin-coloured or bluish bump underneath the skin's surface.
Infantile hemangiomas are usually not present at birth, or may only be a reddish patch on the skin. However, after a couple of weeks, the patch starts getting bigger and becomes raised. It can continue to grow for several weeks before becoming stable and then shrinking until it disappears. Deeper hemangiomas behave in the same way as those on the skin's surface and also disappear with time.
It is usually not possible to predict how long a hemangioma takes to disappear. The smaller they are, the faster that they disappear, but this could still take many years.
Most hemangiomas do not need treatment, but if they occur on specific areas such as the face (especially around the eyes or lips) or the genital area, they could cause disfigurement or interfere with bodily functions. In these cases, treatment should be considered. Your doctor can tell you what options are available.
Nevus simplex (say: nay-vus sim-plex) is a pink or reddish patch of skin between the eyes, on the forehead, or on the back of the neck. People commonly call these patches "stork bite" or "angel's kiss." They are caused by dilated blood vessels that give the skin a reddish colour. Most of these patches disappear within two years.
These are grey or bluish areas of skin that sometimes look like bruises. They are very common in Asian children and usually occur on the back or the buttocks. They usually fade within the first two years.
Vascular malformations (say: vas-ku-lar mal-form-ay-shuns) are another common type of birthmark caused by blood vessels. They can look very different depending on the type of blood vessels involved and where they occur on the body.
The most common malformations are called "port wine stains", so called because they look like dark red areas of skin. When these malformations are large and are near the eyes, the doctor should check the baby to make sure the blood vessels in their brain and inside the eye are healthy. These birthmarks stay with a child for the rest of their life.
Melanocytic nevi (say: mel-an-oh-sigh-tik nay-vee) are more commonly known as moles. They are made of the cells that produce the pigment, or colour, of the skin and are light or dark brown. A lot of babies have tiny moles since birth or in the first few months of life. However, some babies have large or many moles all over their body and will need to be examined by a doctor. Moles do not disappear with time.
Looking after your child's skin and nails
A baby's skin is much thinner and fragile than an adult's, so you should care for it differently when they are ready to leave hospital.
- Bathe your child gently with a mild soap in warm water for 5 minutes. You can use the same soap to clean their scalp.
- After bathing, apply a gentle moisturizer all over the skin and a protective cream on the diaper area to prevent diaper rash.
There are no preferred brands for cleaning or moisturizing your child's skin. The most important thing is that the products you use are mild and as fragrance-free as possible.
Babies play with their hands and can scratch themselves with their nails, even if they are extremely thin and tiny.
- Keep your baby's nails short and clean.
- You can cut them with blunt scissors or with a baby nail clipper, making sure you avoid the skin on the finger pads.
- As babies' nails grow faster than adult nails, you will need to trim them every one or two weeks.