Why Does a Baby's Skin Tone Change?

While changes in a baby's skin tone usually go away on their own, some of them require medical attention. Keep reading to learn more.
Why Does a Baby's Skin Tone Change?
Maria del Carmen Hernandez

Written and verified by the dermatologist Maria del Carmen Hernandez.

Last update: 20 September, 2022

During the first days of life, a baby’s skin tone changes. In fact, alterations in coloration are often due to processes that develop in the body itself. Some of them may even be manifestations of health problems that need to be treated. The permanent coloration of newborns can be observed several months after birth.

Why does a baby’s skin tone change?

At birth, changes in the coloration of a baby’s skin tone are related to their health and the environment around them. These are newborn conditions that may be perfectly normal, unless they’re prolonged over time. In fact, certain changes in the tone of little ones may indicate a health problem that requires medical attention. Here are some of the reasons.

Yellow skin, the most common skin tone in infants

Yellowing of the whites of the eyes and skin is called jaundice. In general, the yellowish hue begins on the face and then spreads to the rest of the body, chest, abdomen, and legs.

These pigmentary changes in newborns develop because of the body’s own breakdown of red blood cells, which is a physiological process in infants. Therefore, the resulting product of this breakdown is bilirubin, which gives rise to the yellow hue when metabolized by the liver. Although it usually disappears spontaneously and quickly, there are cases in which the liver is unable to metabolize bilirubin fast enough.

A newborn with a yellowish skin tone.
Bilirubin gives rise to the yellow color in the skin of infants. However, it usually disappears quickly and spontaneously.

Blue hands and feet

A blue hue in a newborn’s hands and feet is called acrocyanosis. This condition is common after birth and usually occurs within the first few hours of life. It develops because blood and oxygen prioritize their distribution to other more important parts of the body, such as the brain, lungs, and kidneys, rather than to the hands and feet.

Over time, the newborn’s body begins to become accustomed to the dynamics of blood circulation that it will maintain in the future. However, this condition may manifest itself temporarily when the baby is cold, for example, after a bath.

Pink or reddish skin

Newborns are characterized by pink or light-colored skin. This coloration is caused by the visualization of the blood capillaries through the fine and delicate skin surface of the baby.

Therefore, this coloration won’t be the definitive one, but a greater amount of the natural pigment that will give color to the skin will be generated later. In turn, newborn babies can also have vermilion-colored birthmarks, such as port wine stains.

Purple nails and lips

According to a publication in the Revue medicale de Liege, blue baby syndrome is a condition that occurs in the first months of life or at the time of birth. Its most characteristic manifestation is the general violaceous coloration of the skin surface, which is called cyanosis. The nail beds, lips, and earlobes are the most noticeable areas of cyanosis in infants because of their thinner skin.

Cyanosis is a condition that can occur around the mouth, face, or all over the body. In fact, this is because the red blood cells don’t distribute enough oxygen to the tissues or organs. For this reason, it’s important to consult your doctor immediately.

If the purplish hue doesn’t disappear after a crying spell, or you have cyanosis of the skin, it may be a sign of a respiratory problem or immaturity of the circulatory system. Also, heart defects cause cyanosis in infants because serum oxygen values are lower than they should be.

A crying baby with cyanosis.
Blue baby syndrome, or cyanosis, can occur at birth or in the first few months of a baby’s life. It could be a respiratory problem or immaturity of the circulatory system.

Very pale skin color

The blood circulation system of newborns is underdeveloped, so it’s common for the skin tone of babies to be altered as a result. In fact, according to a review in Experimental Dermatology, capillaries and microvasculature continue to develop and evolve for 4 months.

The layers that make up all the layers of the skin surface aren’t yet fully developed, which doesn’t provide them with enough melanin, the skin’s natural pigment, to give it color.

In addition, newborns have a lower concentration of natural pigment in their skin than adults who are exposed to the sun’s rays.

A baby’s skin tone has to do with their immaturity

The tone of the skin’s surface changes in infants as they mature and their immature circulatory system changes. At the same time, their skin is very thin and sensitive to extreme temperatures.

After the age of one year, the skin begins the process of acquiring sufficient functionality and maturity. That is, it becomes thicker and performs its natural insulating function.

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.

  • Mitra S, Rennie J. Neonatal jaundice: aetiology, diagnosis and treatment. Br J Hosp Med (Lond). 2017 Dec 2;78(12):699-704. doi: 10.12968/hmed.2017.78.12.699. PMID: 29240507.
  • Piazza J, Douin C, Bodson L, Ghuysen A, D’Orio V. Le cas clinique du mois. Syndrome du bébé bleu: la vérité cachée au fond du puits [Blue baby syndrome: the source of the truth]. Rev Med Liege. 2014 Apr;69(4):175-9. French. PMID: 24923096.
  • Fluhr JW, Darlenski R, Taieb A, Hachem JP, Baudouin C, Msika P, De Belilovsky C, Berardesca E. Functional skin adaptation in infancy – almost complete but not fully competent. Exp Dermatol. 2010 Jun;19(6):483-92. doi: 10.1111/j.1600-0625.2009.01023.x. Epub 2010 Mar 23. PMID: 20353516.
  • Steinhorn RH. Evaluation and management of the cyanotic neonate. Clin Pediatr Emerg Med. 2008 Sep;9(3):169-175. doi: 10.1016/j.cpem.2008.06.006. PMID: 19727322; PMCID: PMC2598396.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.