Milia is a commonly occurring skin condition that causes small bumps on the skin, and while these bumps may be irritating, the skin condition is harmless. You can learn more about milia, how it’s treated, and when to visit your dermatologist for help managing this skin condition on this page. If you have questions or want to schedule an appointment at U.S. Dermatology Partners, we invite you to take a few moments to complete our simple online request form.
Milia is a skin condition that causes very small white or yellow-colored cysts to appear in clusters, usually on the eyelids, nose, cheeks, and chin, but these bumps may also appear on other parts of the body. The bumps themselves are also called milia and individual bumps are referred to as milium. This condition occurs when dead skin cells aren’t removed from the skin quickly enough and they become trapped below the surface of healthy skin cells rather than flaking away or being removed while cleaning and exfoliating the skin. Over time, the keratin in the trapped skin cells causes the bumps to harden.
There are several different types of milia that are grouped according to the life stage when they develop and/or their underlying causes.
You can learn more about each of the six types of milia below:
By far the most common form of milia, neonatal milia affects as much as 50% of children, and you may have heard these bumps referred to as milk spots. Neonatal milia is often mistaken for baby acne. However, just like milia that develops in adults and teens, these bumps are not acne, but small cysts. Milia cysts in infants usually clear up on their own.
Juvenile milia is usually a symptom that results from genetic conditions, including:
Primary milia usually occurs in older kids, teens, and adults. This condition occurs when keratin builds up below the skin on the eyelids, forehead, nose, and cheeks. Like neonatal milia, this condition typically clears up on its own, but it can take several weeks or months for the skin to completely heal.
Secondary milia usually develops after an infection, injury, burn, blister, or severe rash like those caused by poison oak, ivy, and sumac. It can also occur after long term sun damage or after the prolonged use of corticosteroids. These conditions and medications can damage the lining of pores or clog the sweat ducts. Then, while the skin is healing, milia form in the damaged areas.
This is a very rare form of milia. Like juvenile milia, the cause of milia en plaque is typically attributed to genetic conditions or autoimmune disorders, including discoid lupus and lichen planus. Milia en plaque is most common in middle-aged women, and the small milia cysts usually develop on the eyelids, cheeks, jawline, and around the ears. These milia typically develop on thickened, inflamed areas of skin commonly referred to as plaques.
Multiple eruptive milia is a rare and often serious form of the condition that can cause milia to develop on the face, arms, chest, shoulders, and upper torso. The milia can develop over several weeks or months and be very itchy, irritating the affected skin and surrounding areas.
This skin condition is very common for infants, and about 50% of newborns develop milia within a month of their birth. While this skin condition is extremely common in babies, it can, less frequently, impact children and adults.
While there’s not usually one cause for milia development, risk factors for this condition include:
The most common warning sign of this condition is the milia cysts themselves. Milia can look like whiteheads, and people often mistake them for breakouts, especially if they develop in areas where acne breakouts often occur. The cysts are usually white or yellow-colored. If milia develop on or around the eyes or nose, they can be annoying. However, the milia cysts don’t usually itch or cause any discomfort, and they are not harmful to your health. Milia impact the appearance and texture of the skin, and they are often described as feeling like seeds trapped beneath the skin.
It can be tempting to try “popping” milia like pimples, but home extraction is never recommended for pimples or milia. In fact, you aren’t likely to be very successful if you try popping milia. Instead, there are some home care techniques and professional treatments available to safely and effectively remove milia cysts.
If you already have sensitive skin, acne, or other chronic skin conditions, you should consult with your dermatologist before attempting any at-home milia treatments. For infants or adults with primary milia, it may be best to leave it alone until the condition clears up on its own.
For other forms of milia or primary milia that are irritating, developing in uncomfortable areas, or that significantly mar the appearance, you can try to accelerate milia clearance with at-home skincare treatments, including:
It’s usually recommended to have a dermatologist make treatment recommendations or remove your milia for you. This minimizes the risk of infection, scarring, and other potential risks associated with at-home treatment. Milia can be removed by your dermatologist with minor procedures that are performed quickly while minimizing discomfort and the risk of scarring.
There are many different treatment options available from your dermatologist for milia, including:
It’s unlikely that you can prevent milia altogether, but you can take some steps to significantly diminish your risk, including:
The vast majority of milia will clear on their own after a few weeks, and in infants, the condition does not typically recur. After milia are removed or skin heals, following a skincare routine outlined by your dermatologist will typically help you prevent future milia flareups.
*Results may vary by individual