Toddler Acne: Causes, Symptoms And Treatment

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While common in adults, acne in toddlers is rare. It is a chronic inflammatory skin disease of sebaceous glands (oil-producing cells). These oil glands are located at the base of hair follicles (1). Extra skin cells and oil may combine to block the hair follicle’s opening, which in turn plugs the oil glands leading to bacterial growth and multiplication, and eventually causing pimples (2). Read on to know more about the causes, symptoms, treatment, and tips to reduce and prevent acne in toddlers.

Is Acne Common In Toddlers?

Acne can occur in toddlers, but it is rare (3).

Pediatric acne is divided into five subgroups (4).

  • Neonatal acne
Neonatal acne is a type of pediatric acne

Image: Shutterstock

Toddler acne falls in the mid-childhood acne category.

Symptoms Of Acne In Toddlers

Toddler acne often appears on the face

Image: iStock

Mid-childhood acne is usually seen in the age group of one to seven years. The following are the symptoms of acne in toddlers.

  • Red raised inflammatory papules on the skin surface
  • Painful bumps
  • Lesions mostly on the face, chest, and back
  • Lesions appearing as open or closed comedo, which is commonly known as blackheads or whiteheads, respectively
  • Inflammatory papules and pustules
Quick fact
Several conditions, such as keratin cysts, demodicosis, and molluscum contagiosum, can be mistaken as mid-childhood acne (3).

Causes Of Acne In Toddlers

Acne usually happens due to the circulation of adrenal and gonadal androgen hormones in the blood (3). The secretion of androgens is usually low in children of one to seven years old. However, some substances or conditions might trigger the secretion of androgens. The following are some commonly seen reasons for acne in toddlers.

1. Dairy intake

Dairy intake has been proven to increase the incidence of acne in people between the ages of seven to 30years. It is believed that dairy, especially butter and cheese, intake can cause acne in toddlers, too. However, more research needs to be done to establish the relation of dairy consumption in toddler acne (1).

2. Irritants

Some irritants from soap or cleansers might trigger acne in toddlers with sensitive skin. This is much more common than many other triggers. Some skin lotions can also be irritants to the sensitive skin. Skin irritation can also be caused by air fresheners, soaps, or lotions that are heavily perfumed.

3. Medicines

The use of medicines like antidepressants, birth control pills, steroids, etc., by breastfeeding mothers can cause acne in toddlers. However, there is limited research to establish a correlation.

4. Dietary changes

Dietary changes in a mother’s food might also cause skin problems leading to acne breakout in toddlers.

5. Hormones from maternal breast milk

Some researchers believe that the hormonal disturbances in the mother might get passed to babies via breast milk. However, this requires further research (5).

Drooling of saliva from the baby’s mouth can lead to acne. Also use of rough fabric may irritate the sensitive skin of the baby.

Drooling may cause toddler acne

Image: Shutterstock

In some toddlers, the acne might happen due to hormonal changes. The doctor might recommend blood tests in case hormonal abnormalities are suspected to be the cause (3).

How Do You Treat Acne in Toddlers?

Topical application of medicines may help treat acne

Image: Shutterstock

Acne does not need treatment in toddlers. It is a self-limiting condition and resolves by itself. Treatment might be required only in a few rare cases. Dr. Anna H. Chacon, a board-certified dermatologist from Miami, Florida, says, “You should contact a doctor if your child has moderate-to-severe acne, painful cysts, or scars.” Establishing the cause of acne is essential in designing the treatment plan. The doctor will identify the underlying cause and suggest treatment accordingly. The following is the commonly proposed treatment plan for acne in toddlers (3).

  • Topical application of benzoyl peroxide might be recommended.
  • Application of topical antibiotic ointments such as erythromycin might help in treating acne.
Quick tip
Avoid using greasy emollients and comedogenic products on the affected parts to prevent blocking skin pores with skin debris and sebum (7).
  • If the topical application does not help, the doctor might prescribe oral antibiotics like erythromycin, trimethoprim, etc.

The doctor will plan the acne treatment only on the basis of the underlying pathology. If some hormonal issues are suspected, then the endocrinologist will plan the treatment accordingly.

Tips To Reduce And Prevent Acne In Toddlers

Prescription based lotions may help prevent toddler acne

Image: Shutterstock

Taking the following precautions can help reduce and prevent further the occurrence of acne in toddlers.

  • Avoid scrubbing the area of the pimples with a towel.
  • Keep the baby’s face clean with warm water.
  • Do not squeeze the pimples since it might exacerbate the spread of acne lesions.
  • Teach your toddler not to scratch or pop the pimples.
  • Do not use lotions.
  • Do not use over-the-counter (OTC) acne products since they might be harsh for your toddler’s skin.
  • Use a bar of mild soap without fragrance to bathe the toddler.
  • Use mild and gentle laundry detergents for the toddler’s clothes.
  • Document the episodes of acne flare-out in the toddler and correlate it with the food you consumed. Your toddler might show a reaction to substances from the food items that passed through the breastmilk.
  • Avoid chemical-based oily lotions and creams for the baby. Use prescription-based mild products that are specifically designed for toddlers.
  • You should consume a healthy and well-balanced diet to prevent acne in toddlers.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. Can I shave a toddler’s ear acne?

Acne in toddlers is commonly seen on the back, face, neck, chest, and arms. However, occasionally they might  occur in the ears. If you suspect acne development on the baby’s ears, then contact your pediatrician for a diagnosis and treatment.

2. Can teething cause acne in toddlers?

Teething can cause excess saliva to drool. It leads to the development of a drool rash around the baby’s mouth, and at times even on the neck and chest. Drool rash appears as a red and inflamed patch of the skin. It might be confused with acne, but the cause and management of drool rash are different from that of acne. The doctor will help you diagnose and treat the drool rash.

3. Can toddler acne be something other than just acne?

“Perioral dermatitis is a skin ailment that causes an inflammatory rash around a toddler’s mouth. It is frequently confused with acne because it manifests as little pink bumps and fluid-filled lesions that form, fade, and reappear over time,” observes Dr. Chacon.

Acne in toddlers is not common. For most toddlers, acne gets better in some time with little or, at times, no medical intervention. It may take a little time, but the healing is uneventful for most toddlers. However, refrain from using any OTC drugs or ointments to manage acne in toddlers. You can consult a pediatrician to confirm the child’s diagnosis who may chalk out a safe treatment plan for your child.

Infographic: Possible Causes Of Acne Breakouts In Toddlers

When the hair follicles are clogged with oil or dead skin cells, the inflammatory skin condition ‘acne’ leads to pimples. Although toddler acne is uncommon, several potential causes exist, some of which are listed in the infographic below. Keep reading.

reasons a toddler gets acne [infographic]
Illustration: MomJunction Design Team

References:

MomJunction's articles are written after analyzing the research works of expert authors and institutions. Our references consist of resources established by authorities in their respective fields. You can learn more about the authenticity of the information we present in our editorial policy.
1. Christian R. Juhlet al., Dairy Intake and Acne Vulgaris: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of 78,529 Children, Adolescents, and Young Adults; US National Library of Medicine
2. Acne; American Academy of Family Physicians.
3. BilgenGencleret , Pediatric Acne; IntechOpen
4. Michael Samycia, MD and Joseph M. Lam, Infantile acne; US National Library of Medicine
5. TanjaKuiri-Hanninenet al., Transient Postnatal Secretion of Androgen Hormones Is Associated with Acne and Sebaceous Gland Hypertrophy in Early Infancy; THE JOURNAL OF CLINICAL ENDOCRINOLOGY & METABOLISM
6. Julie Blatt and Peter A. Lee; Severe acne and hyperandrogenemia following dactinomycin; Medical and Pediatric Oncology
7. Acne in children; DermNet New Zealand Trust.
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