Baby skin problems like acne and cradle cap usually resolve themselves

Helen O’Callaghan looks at problems that may irritate tots.

Baby skin problems like acne and cradle cap usually resolve themselves

JUST when you want to show off your newborn, she comes out in a red, blotchy rash with white-heads.

Baby acne pops up in about half of newborns when they’re two to five days old.

“It’s usually just when mum comes home and people are calling in to look at baby and there’s that moment of apology —‘sorry, her skin has broken out’,” says Dr Sinéad Beirne, presenter on TV3’s Doctor in the House and ‘resident doctor’ on Ireland AM and Newstalk.

Mum to four-month-old Isabel, Dr Beirne recently gave the keynote speech at the launch of the Aveeno Baby range.

But while baby acne is hard to look at, it’s benign and will resolve itself, says Dr Beirne.

A bacterial infection causes an impetigo-type rash: crusty, golden covering over redness, possibly with a weeping look.

Bacteria enter through any little cut on baby’s skin. The condition resolves with antibiotic treatment.

Another worrisome one for parents is cradle cap, affecting 50% of babies aged up to one or over.

Recognisable by its greasy, crusty yellow patches on baby’s scalp but often too on forehead, eyebrows and tops of ears, it looks unpleasant but doesn’t irritate, says Dr Beirne.

“Pour a generous amount of oil [olive/coconut/almond] over affected area at night for three to four nights. Then comb hair in opposite direction of growth and cradle cap lifts out.”

Babies’ skin is uniquely different to that of adults. It absorbs and releases water faster than adult skin, is highly reactive and has much higher pH levels.

“Babies’ water-holding properties aren’t fully developed until about two years of age. Their skin is thinner than ours, so it’s easier for irritants to get absorbed,” says Dr Beirne.

Nappy rash, for example, occurs when baby’s skin becomes very moist.

“Enzymes in faeces or urine break down the skin barrier if baby’s skin is in constant contact with moisture,” says Dr Beirne, who advises removing nappy for periods each day, changing nappy frequently and using barrier cream.

Atopic dermatitis (eczema) often runs in families and usually presents between three and six months.

“Most grow out of it — only two to three percent of adults continue to suffer,” says Dr Beirne, describing it as a chronic itchy skin condition.

“Babies often get into a cycle of itching and scratching. The key is to repair the skin barrier by frequently applying emollient. Re-hydrate skin with lots of baths — using only emollient, not soap.”

See  for more information.


* Establish daily routine around minding baby’s skin. Use gentle wash with an emollient. Water alone can be quite drying.

* Most rashes are benign. If baby’s feeding well, in good form, doesn’t have a temperature, don’t panic.

* Know how to do the tumbler test for meningitis — press the side of a glass tumbler firmly against skin; if rash doesn’t fade under the glass, seek help.

* Ask your GP if you have concerns about baby skin conditions.

More in this section


Join us for our International Women’s Day virtual lunchtime celebration on Monday, March 8 from 1pm

Home Delivery


Have the Irish Examiner delivered to your door. No delivery charge. Just pay the cover price.