Skin Color Changes in Newborns

The skin color of the newborn changes as the baby matures and the immature blood circulation changes. Learn more.
Skin Color Changes in Newborns
Maria del Carmen Hernandez

Written and verified by the dermatologist Maria del Carmen Hernandez.

Last update: 03 July, 2023

Newborn skin changes over time. In fact, the color changes they undergo are due to situations that occur in the body. Some may even be signs of some problem. It may take several months for the baby’s permanent color to develop. Keep reading to discover more about skin color changes in newborns.

Why do newborn skin color changes occur?

When a baby is born, skin color changes are closely related to the baby’s environment and health. These are conditions that can be normal unless they last too long.

Blue feet and hands

Acrocyanosis is a blue coloring of the feet and hands in newborns. After birth, this condition is common and is seen in the first few hours of life. This coloration is generated because oxygen and blood prioritize their circulation through other more important parts of the body, such as the lungs, brain, and kidneys, instead of irrigating the feet and hands.

As time goes by, the baby’s body gets used to the circulatory dynamics that it’ll have in the future. However, it can happen temporarily if, for example, the baby feels cold after a bath.

A newborn baby with a bluish skin tone.
Cyanosis can occur all over the body or in certain areas and gives the baby a bluish color. This is because the red blood cells don’t carry enough oxygen to the organs or tissues.

Purple lips and nails

Blue baby syndrome is a condition seen at birth or in the first few months of life. The main characteristic is a general purplish discoloration of the skin, called cyanosis. The most noticeable areas of cyanosis are those with the thinnest skin, such as the lips, nail beds, and earlobes. Cyanosis may appear  all over the body or around the face or mouth.

Yellow skin

Jaundice is the yellowing of the skin or whites of the eyes. In most cases, the manifestation starts on the face and then spreads to the chest, lower abdomen, and legs. The yellowish coloration is generated because the body breaks down red blood cells, which is a normal process in newborns.

The product of this breakdown is bilirubin, which is metabolized by the liver and causes the yellow color. This pigmentation tends to disappear on its own. However, there are times when the newborn’s liver isn’t able to metabolize bilirubin fast enough.

Pink or reddish skin

Newborns often have a light appearance or pinkish skin tone. This coloration is due to the blood vessels that are visible through the baby’s delicate, thin skin. This shade won’t be the final shade, but rather a greater amount of natural pigment will be produced to give color. In addition, newborns may have colored birthmarks, such as port wine stains.

Pale skin

Babies at birth have an underdeveloped blood circulation system, so it’s common for different shades to emerge as a result. In fact, the microvasculature continues to evolve for about 4 months. In turn, babies have a lower concentration of melanin compared to adults in skin exposed to the sun’s rays.

A person touching holding the hands of a newborn baby wrapped in a blue knit blanket.
Newborns may have pale skin because their skin layers aren’t yet fully developed. As a result, they don’t have enough melanin to provide more color.

When should I go to the doctor?

Some changes in the skin color of newborns may indicate a health problem and require medical attention. If the purplish hue doesn’t disappear after a crying spell, it may be a sign of an immature circulatory system or a respiratory problem. Also, if the baby has cyanosis of the lips, nails, and skin.

Heart defects cause cyanosis in babies because the oxygen levels in the blood are lower than they should be.

Newborn skin and its immaturity

Newborn skin tone changes as the baby matures and the baby’s immature blood circulation changes. They also have very thin skin and are sensitive to extreme temperatures. After the age of one year, the skin surface begins to fully mature and become functional and thicker and acts as natural insulation.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

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  • Steinhorn RH. Evaluación y manejo del neonato cianótico. Clin Pediatr Emerg Med . 2008; 9 (3): 169-175. doi: 10.1016 / j.cpem.2008.06.006
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This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.