Baby Rashes: What You Should Know

Table of Contents
View All
Table of Contents

Babies can develop rashes due to heat, dampness, irritation, or allergens. It’s common for babies to develop rashes such as eczema, heat rash, diaper rashes, or cradle cap. Rashes can also be caused by chronic problems such as eczema or contagious infections such as impetigo or chicken pox. 

Many rashes resolve on their own, while others may require medical attention. However, they are rarely an emergency. This article reviews different types of baby rashes and their the symptoms, causes, and treatments.

Asian baby boy with red rash

Comzeal / Getty Images

Causes

Babies develop rashes for a variety of reasons, including:

  • Sensitive skin 
  • Irritants
  • Heat
  • Allergic reactions
  • Infections

While these are more common reasons for babies to develop rashes, rashes are associated with a variety of conditions and triggers.

Types of Rashes

Allergic Reaction

Babies can have allergic reactions to medications, soap, animals, or specific foods. Allergic reactions cause a raised rash with red bumps and may include vomiting. 

When a rash occurs due to an allergic reaction, infants may also exhibit the following allergy-related symptoms:

  • Swelling of the face, lips, or eyes
  • Itching 
  • Red, itchy, runny eyes
  • Congestion 
  • Runny nose
  • Wheezing
  • Nausea or vomiting

When Are Allergic Reactions an Emergency?

While it is rare, a life-threatening allergic reaction called anaphylaxis can occur. The most common cause is a food allergy. If your child has any of the following symptoms of anaphylaxis, call 911 immediately:

  • Trouble breathing or stops breathing
  • Swelling of the upper airway (hoarse voice or high-pitched breathing sounds)
  • Loses consciousness or fainting
  • Unusually fast heart rate
  • Unusually slow heart rate

Baby Acne

Neonatal or newborn acne appears as tiny red or white bumps on the cheeks, forehead, nose, and scalp. It is common in babies 2 weeks to 6 weeks old and usually resolves on its own within a couple of months. 

Infantile acne is less common and develops when your baby is 6 weeks or older. It causes comedones, which are small, skin-colored bumps with a white or dark surface. 

Chicken Pox

Itchy red spots filled with clear fluid are often the first sign of chicken pox. It is caused by a virus called varicella. The rash starts on the chest, back, head, and face and spreads to the arms and legs. Rarely, it spreads to the mouth, eyelids, or genital area.

Infants with chicken pox may develop other symptoms such as:

  • Fever
  • Swollen glands
  • Abdominal pain
  • Tiredness
  • Loss of appetite

How Long Is a Baby With Chickenpox Contagious?

Babies are contagious until the rash is crusted over, which generally takes a week. Infants should stay home from daycare during this time.

Cradle Cap

Cradle cap, crusty yellow or slightly red patches on the scalp, is most seen in babies 2 months old to 12 months old. It can spread to the face, neck, armpits, diaper area, and ears. This condition usually resolves on its own within a couple of weeks.

Diaper Rash

A rash in the diaper area is common in infants. It causes red splotches that may become sore and scaly and can spread to the stomach and upper legs. 

Causes of a diaper rash include:

  • A diaper that stays on too long
  • Infection 
  • Allergic reaction to diapers, baby wipes, or soap
  • Yeast infection (most often seen with antibiotics given to the baby or breastfeeding parent)

Eczema

Eczema (atopic dermatitis) creates itchy, dry, and scaly patches of skin that may be red and swollen or bleed when scratched. Excessive scratching can cause bleeding or rough, thicker, and darker skin. It is not contagious.

Eczema often begins between the ages of 6 months and 5 years. It typically starts on the cheeks and forehead and then skin creases, elbows, and knees. Allergies cause it to worsen, and it will come and go based on exposure to irritants such as:

  • Scented soaps, lotion, or detergents
  • Dry air
  • Illness or stress
  • Dust mites
  • Pet dander
  • Drooling  

Eczema Is Often Inherited

Babies born into families with a history of asthma or allergies are at a higher risk of developing eczema.

Fifth Disease

Fifth disease is a contagious viral infection caused by the human parvovirus B19. This rash may look as if a child has been slapped and is sometimes referred to as the "slapped-cheek rash." It is a flat, red rash that can spread to the chest, stomach, arms, and legs. When it is fading, it looks a bit like lace.

Children with fifth disease may also have symptoms including:

  • Low-grade fever
  • Headache
  • Runny nose

Hand, Foot, and Mouth Disease

Hand, foot, and mouth disease (HFMD) is a highly contagious, viral disease that creates blisters in the mouth or a rash on the hands and feet. It’s passed through saliva, stool (poop), respiratory droplets, and fluid in blisters. 

Infants with this disease may also have the following symptoms:

  • Poor appetite
  • Sore throat
  • Irritability
  • Drooling
  • Fever

Symptoms are usually mild and resolve on their own within a week. However, healthcare providers may prescribe medications to help relieve symptoms.

Heat Rash

Heat, humidity, and sweat can block pores and create a rash with small red bumps or fluid-filled blisters. They usually go away on their own, especially when the baby is cooled down.

Hives

Hives are itchy, raised, swollen welts on the skin that can appear anywhere on the body. Their appearance varies and might include:

  • Red, pink, or skin-colored bumps
  • Tiny spots 
  • Clusters of spots
  • Blotchy patches

Hives are usually an allergic reaction to food, irritants, pollen, or medication. Illness, infection, and extreme temperatures can also cause hives.

Impetigo

Impetigo, a common bacterial rash, causes red itchy sores that form blisters. The sores sometimes break and ooze a clear fluid that creates a yellow crust. This fluid is highly contagious when others come in contact with it.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends keeping infants with impetigo home from daycare for 24 hours after the start of antibiotics.

Treatments

Treatment for baby rashes will depend on the cause and severity of the rash. The following are general guidelines for each type of rash:

  • Allergic reaction: It’s best to seek medical attention for allergic reactions. Your healthcare provider may want to perform allergy testing and prescribe medications such as antihistamines, allergy medication, steroids, or an epinephrine pen (EpiPen).
  • Baby acne: For newborns less than 6 weeks old, acne typically resolves on its own and does not require treatment. Babies 6 weeks or older should be examined by a dermatologist (a doctor who specializes in skin conditions) to rule out other skin problems and decrease the risk of permanent scars.
  • Chicken pox: A lukewarm bath with small amounts of uncooked oatmeal helps with itchy rashes such as chickenpox. Apply calamine lotion to the rash after bathing. Give Tylenol (acetaminophen) for fever or discomfort. Infants younger than 3 months should have approval from their healthcare provider before giving acetaminophen.
  • Cradle cap: Gently remove scales with a soft brush and wash the baby’s hair once a day. A small amount of baby oil can be used to soften scales, if needed.
  • Diaper rash: Apply a diaper rash cream such as Boudreaux’s butt paste or Desitin after every diaper change. For rashes around the opening of the diaper at the leg or waist, try switching diaper brands.
  • Eczema: Use a cool compress or a lukewarm bath with colloidal oatmeal and apply an eczema-friendly moisturizer. It’s best to see a healthcare provider for long-term solutions.
  • Fifth disease: Fifth disease is usually mild and resolves on its own. You can treat symptoms such as fever, swelling, or pain with Tylenol.
  • Hand, foot, and mouth disease: HFMD usually resolves on its own with no specific treatment. Ensure your baby gets plenty of fluids and treat fever or pain with Tylenol.
  • Heat rash: Keep the baby cool and out of hot, humid weather. Try to avoid powders and creams because they can clog pores further.
  • Hives: Many cases of mild hives will resolve on their own. However, it’s important to see a healthcare provider to help you identify triggers to avoid in the future. Your provider may prescribe allergy medications, steroids, or an epinephrine pen.
  • Impetigo: Babies with impetigo should see a healthcare provider. They may want to prescribe oral or topical (skin) antibiotics. 

Ibuprofen and Aspirin Are Not Advised

Motrin or Advil (ibuprofen) is not advised for children with chicken pox. Children should not receive aspirin unless otherwise directed by a healthcare provider. Aspirin given to a child with chicken pox increases the risk of Reye’s syndrome, a life-threatening disease that affects the liver and brain.

When to See a Healthcare Provider

Call your healthcare provider for any of the following:

  • Your baby is not eating or drinking enough.
  • Fever lasts longer than three days.
  • There's no improvement after 10 days.
  • Your baby is experiencing symptoms and is less than 6 months old.
  • Your baby has a weak immune system.
  • The rash gets worse after treatment .

Prevention

General guidelines to help prevent baby rashes include:

  • Practice good hygiene and handwashing.
  • Avoid allergens.
  • Avoid tight clothes or diapers.
  • Change diapers as soon as they are wet or dirty.
  • Avoid harsh fragrances, soap, or detergents.
  • Avoid exposure to hot, humid conditions.
  • Dress the baby in loose-fitting, breathable clothes.

Techniques to prevent contagious diseases from spreading include:

  • Wash clothes and linens that touch sores daily.
  • Prevent scratching with mittens or clean cotton socks on their hands.
  • Wash your babies hands often.
  • Cover open sores with light bandages.
  • Frequently was surfaces, toys, and pacifiers.
  • Bathe your baby daily.

Summary 

Babies can develop rashes due to irritants (including harsh detergents or fragrances), allergens, or certain health conditions. Contagious infections such as impetigo or chicken pox also cause rashes, which often include other symptoms such as fever. Many of these rashes resolve on their own, while others may require medical attention. 

If you are concerned about your baby’s rash, don’t hesitate to contact your healthcare provider. If your baby has severe symptoms such as trouble breathing, fainting, very low or high heart rate, or is not responding, call 911.

A Word From Verywell

While it is common for babies to develop diaper rashes or cradle cap, it can be stressful for parents. Keep in mind that rashes are very rarely an emergency. That said, there's no shame in asking for an opinion from your child's healthcare provider. Knowing what the rash is and how to treat it can make your child more comfortable faster.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What are the best home remedies for baby rashes?

    Reducing a baby’s exposure to irritants helps many rashes resolve on their own. A lukewarm bath with non-cooked oatmeal can help with itching. Calamine lotion is a good choice for chickenpox.

  • How can you tell if a baby rash is serious?

    A baby’s rash is considered serious if the baby becomes lethargic (overly tired and not responding), not eating or drinking, have a fever for more than three days, or you don’t see improvement after 10 days. Rashes are an emergency if your baby has trouble breathing, faints, or has a very low or high heart rate. In this case, you should call 911 immediately. 

Was this page helpful?
22 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. National Health Service. Rashes in babies and children.

  2. Carlisle A, Lieberman J. Clinical management of infant anaphylaxis. J Asthma Allergy. 2021;14:821-827. doi:10.2147/JAA.S286692

  3. American Academy of Dermatology Association. Is that acne on my baby's face?.

  4. DermNetNZ. Comedonal acne.

  5. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Chickenpox: Signs and symptoms.

  6. Nemours Kids Health. Cradle cap (seborrheic dermatitis) in infants. Kidshealth.org.

  7. Nemours KidsHealth. Diaper rash. Kidshealth.org.

  8. Bonifaz A, Rojas R, Tirado-Sánchez A, et al. Superficial mycoses associated with diaper dermatitis. Mycopathologia. 2016;181(9-10):671-679. doi:10.1007/s11046-016-0020-9

  9. Johns Hopkins Medicine. Managing eczema in winter and year-round: A parents guide.

  10. American College of Allergy, Asthma, & Immunology. Eczema.

  11. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Parvovirus B19 and fifth disease.

  12. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Hand, foot, and mouth disease (HFMD): Symptoms & diagnosis.

  13. Mount Sinai. Babies and heat rashes.

  14. Nemours TeensHealth. Hives (urticaria). Kidshealth.org.

  15. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Group A streptococcal (GAS) disease: Impetigo.

  16. Rosen T, Albareda N, Rosenberg N, et al. Efficacy and safety of ozenoxacin cream for treatment of adult and pediatric patients with impetigo: A randomized clinical trial. JAMA Dermatol. 2018;154(7):806–813. doi:10.1001/jamadermatol.2018.1103.

  17. American Academy of Dermatology Association. How to care for children with chickenpox.

  18. St. Louis Children’s Hospital. Acetaminophen (Tylenol) dose table.

  19. American Academy of Dermatology Association. Home remedies: What can relieve itchy eczema?

  20. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Hand, foot, and mouth disease (HFMD): Treatment.

  21. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Chickenpox: Prevention and treatment.

  22. University of Michigan Health. Chickenpox: Preventing skin infections.