How to identify and treat newborn skin rashes

Baby skin is different to that of adults, especially in the first few months of life. “Baby skin is structurally and functionally weak, and therefore easily prone to damage and susceptible to rashes,” explains paediatric dermatologist Dr Carol Hlela.

Your newborn’s skin needs special care to protect it from rashes.

Common newborn skin conditions

“The conditions listed below are physiological and temporary, occurring in the first days or weeks of life and will disappear naturally,” says Dr Hlela. Your baby’s skin is still developing, but once the skin is fully developed and functional these conditions usually disappear with little or no treatment.

Erythema toxicum  

This condition is common in babies during the first four weeks of life.

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The cause of erythema toxicum is unknown. It appears as red pimples or patches, and sometimes pus pimples, anywhere on the body. However, it tends to spare the palms of the hands and soles of the feet.

Should I be worried?

“No, this condition is self-limiting, and will resolve [in] from three to 10 days,” says Dr Hlela. “The pimples might worsen in two weeks, but then suddenly disappear without any treatment necessary.”

It’s best to get a proper diagnosis from a paediatric dermatologist for peace of mind.

Dry, peeling skin

  • Baby skin can be dry and flaky for many reasons. “If your baby was born post-date,” says Dr Hlela, “there’s no reason to worry, as the condition will resolve itself.”
  • Bathing your baby with the wrong products can cause dry, peeling skin. Rather switch to gentler baby products to protect your little one’s skin.
  • Systemic diseases such as eczema or ichthyosis can also cause dry, peeling skin.

Should I be worried?

Take your baby to a dermatologist so he can identify the cause of the dry, peeling skin. Treatment will be needed if your little one has eczema or ichthyosis.


This is a temporary condition that occurs during the first few weeks of life. “Milia presents as tiny pearly white pimples, which can be seen anywhere on the body but mainly on the face and trunk,” explains Dr Hlela.

“These pimples form because the skin pores are clogged and the hair follicles and surrounding structures are not yet functional to exude waste product substances from the skin,” she adds.

The pimples will be present up until the second or third month of your baby’s life, but will disappear spontaneously after that.

Should I be worried?

No, but the correct diagnosis is important. Once the rash has been diagnosed as milia, there is nothing to be worried about.

Dr Hlela suggests the following tips for moms to look after their newborn’s skin:

  • Educate yourself and understand that newborn skin is different, that it is still developing, and that it needs special care.
  • Know what to use and what not to use when washing or applying moisturisers to your baby’s skin. Don’t use adult products on your baby. Antiseptic soaps and scented soaps have the potential to damage baby skin that is still developing and not yet fully functional.
  • Avoid using harsh detergents, which may cause a reaction.
  • Moisturise the skin generously with appropriate moisturisers.
  • If you have a background or family history of eczema, let your dermatologist know, so he can recommend the correct products to prevent further damage to your baby’s skin.