Erythema Toxicum Overview

Skin Problems Image Gallery Erythema toxicum is the most common rash among newborn babies. See more pictures of skin problems.
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Unlike cars, babies don't come with instruction manuals. They don't come with warning lights, either. Being a new parent is a learning experience, and it isn't always easy. But it is easy to worry about something that seems abnormal, like a rash, on your newborn baby. Keep in mind, however, that rashes -- and a number of other conditions -- are incredibly common, and you probably have nothing to worry about. The most common rash on newborns is called erythema toxicum; you might be surprised to learn that it actually affects about half of all newborn babies [source: Rauch].

Don't worry, it sounds a lot worse than it is. Erythema toxicum may affect a majority of newborns, but it's also completely harmless. Most new parents don't know that, which can cause a bit of unnecessary distress.


If you've seen an outbreak of erythema toxicum, you'll understand the concern. It doesn't exactly look like a harmless rash. Educating yourself about the symptoms and possible treatments will help put your mind at ease. And remember, physicians can easily diagnose erythema toxicum.

Erythema toxicum has been affecting newborns for a long time. One medical book from 1826 talks about the respect nurses used to give the rash. It was such a common condition that they often blamed the absence of it for other infant ailments [source: Finlay & Bound]. We know now that isn't the case -- but to be honest, we don't know much more about the condition than they did in 1826. Fortunately, the rash doesn't produce any negative side effects or cause any discomfort.

Keep reading to find out about the symptoms of erythema toxicum.

Seeing your newborn baby with a rash can be worrisome, but it's actually very common. There are a number of rashes that affect babies -- one of the most prevalent is erythema toxicum. If your baby develops this particular rash, there's no reason to get upset. It's no more harmful than common diaper rash, and it will clear up without any treatment. That doesn't mean, however, that you shouldn't consult a physician. If your baby develops a rash, it's always a good idea to get a proper diagnosis. Chances are your baby will be fine and you'll leave with a smile on your face.

Erythema toxicum is so common that the odds of your baby developing the rash are the same, if not better, than a coin flip. Right around 50 percent of all newborn babies develop the rash [source: Rauch]. Interestingly, it tends to affect babies that are carried to term more than those  born prematurely, and the same can be said for babies weighing in at more than 5.5 pounds (2.5 kilograms). Occasionally, babies are born with the rash, but more often they develop it within a few days of birth [source: O'Connor, McLaughlin & Ham].

Erythema toxicum appears in the form of raised yellow or white spots surrounded by red skin. It tends to affect the head and torso but can also make its way to the upper arms and thighs. Symptoms can last anywhere from a couple hours to a couple weeks, but they'll fade on their own. It is possible for the rash to recur, but it isn't very common. The important thing to know is that it won't hurt your baby.

Keep reading to find out why treatment for erythema toxicum isn't necessary.

By now you're aware of how common erythema toxicum is and you know the symptoms, but you're probably still wondering if there's anything you can do about it. Unfortunately, the answer is no. There is no treatment available for the rash. That's the bad news. The good news is that it's harmless and will eventually go away on its own. Most of the time, it won't take more than a couple of days to disappear.

No treatment has been developed for erythema toxicum because no one knows exactly what causes it. There are no bacteria or viruses associated with the rash and the fluid that can occasionally be found in the symptomatic raised spots is made up entirely of healthy blood cells. Most people assume that it's pus, but that's not the case. Also, erythema toxicum isn't contagious at all, and it won't cause your baby any discomfort.

For the time being, erythema toxicum is a medical mystery and since it doesn't have any negative effects, it's likely to stay that way for quite awhile. There are, however, a couple of theories out there regarding the rash. Due to its lack of presence in areas of the body without hair, some people think it may have something to do with hair follicles. Others continue to believe that it's some kind of allergic reaction, despite a lack of evidence to support that claim.

Even though no treatment is available for erythema toxicum, a proper diagnosis is necessary. A physician will examine the rash using a test called a Tzanck smear to make sure that it isn't something more serious. If the rash is, in fact, identified as erythema toxicum you'll be able to return home with your newborn and relax.

Look over the links on the next page for a lot more information on erythema toxicum

Related HowStuffWorks Articles


  • Beute, Trisha C. MD. "Erythema Toxicum Neonatorum." eMedicine. June 18, 2009. (Accessed 09/02/2009)
  • Beute, Trisha C. MD. "Erythema Toxicum Neonatorum: Treatment & Medication." eMedicine. June 18, 2009. (Accessed 09/02/2009)
  • Dowshen, Steven MD. "Erythema Toxicum." KidsHealth. June 2009. (Accessed 09/02/2009)
  • Finlay, H.V.L. & J.P. Bound. "Urticaria Neonatorum (Eruthema Toxicum Neonatorum)." Archives of Disease in Childhood. May 4, 1953. (Accessed 09/02/2009)
  • Martin, Joyce A., M.P.H., Brady E. Hamilton, Ph.D., Paul D. Sutton, Ph.D., Stephanie J. Ventura, M.A., Fay Menacker, Dr. P.H., Sharon Kirmeyer, Ph.D., & T.J. Mathews, M.S. "Births: Final Data for 2006." Centers for Disease Control. National Vital Statistics Reports. Vol. 57, No. 7. Jan. 7, 2009. (Accessed 09/02/2009)
  • O'Connor, Nina R. MD, Maura R. McLaughlin, MD, & Peter Ham, MD. "Newborn Skin: Part I. Common Rashes." American Family Physician. Jan. 1, 2008. (Accessed 09/02/2009)
  • Rauch, Daniel M.D., FAAP. "Erythema Toxicum." MedlinePlus. July 26, 2007. (Accessed 09/02/2009)