What to Know About Milia

Medically Reviewed by Poonam Sachdev on March 21, 2024
5 min read

Milia are tiny white or yellowish bumps (pimples or cysts) on your eyelids, nose, or cheeks. They most often happen on infants’ faces. But anyone can get them on any part of the body. 

You may hear milia (one is a milium) referred to as milk spots or oil seeds. It’s a common blemish that affects 40% to 50% of newborns. 

Not much is known about these little white bumps, but they aren’t dangerous and don’t need treatment.  



Milia don’t cause problems. They aren’t painful or itchy. Worsening symptoms such as inflammation, pain, or leakage may be signs of acne

What do milia look like? Milia look like small white bumps on the cheeks, chin, or nose. They look similar to whiteheads, which are a form of acne. They aren't acne and aren't uncomfortable.

They can also be on the body, especially the trunk and limbs.

A similar condition, called Epstein pearls, is marked by milia on your gums or the roof of the mouth. Epstein pearls are very common in newborns.

Your body sheds dead skin cells to make way for fresh new ones. Milia happen when the dead skin cells don’t fall away. Instead, they get caught under the new skin, harden, and form a milium. 

Milia can also happen because of: 

  • Skin damage from something like a rash, an injury, or sun exposure
  • Long-term use of steroid medications
  • Your genes
  • An autoimmune condition

You’re also at higher risk if you: 

  • Don’t follow proper skin care
  • Use cosmetics or makeup that clogs your pores
  • Don’t get enough sleep
  • Have skin conditions like dandruff, rosacea, or eczema

Milia in newborns

Babies are most likely to get milia. Because their skin is still learning how to replace itself, they sometimes have milia and baby acne

It’s OK to let milia run their course. They’ll go away on their own after a few weeks or months. 

You may be tempted to pick at or pop the milia. This irritation may only make it worse and cause complications. Picking at the skin around the milia can lead to scarring or an infection. 

If you’re worried about how milia look, you can take a few steps to help the treatment process.

Milia treatment cream. There are a few over-the-counter gel options, including adapalene gel. Your doctor may also prescribe tretinoin cream or minocycline.

Milia treatment at home. Baby skin is too delicate for lotions, oils, or other cosmetics. Wash your baby’s face with warm water and, if needed, a mild baby soap daily and then pat the skin dry. Wait for the milia to clear. For adults, washing your face two times a day is recommended.

Exfoliation. An over-the-counter exfoliating cosmetic with salicylic acid, alpha-hydroxy acid, or a retinoid can help remove the dead skin cells. If the milia on your skin don’t clear up on their own or with the help of over-the-counter exfoliation treatment, your doctor can find a treatment plan. These treatments should only be used on adults, not children.

Removal at your doctor's office. A dermatologist can do a simple procedure to surgically remove the milia. Some possible removal methods include:

  • Freezing the milia
  • Laser surgery
  • Extreme heat 
  • Dermabrasion
  • Oral medication

If milia hasn't gone away in a few months or gets worse, talk to your doctor about treatment options.

Milia generally can’t be prevented, especially in infants. For adults, good skin care can help prevent milia and other conditions. 

Use sunscreen and moisturizer. Milia tend to happen when you have too much sun exposure. Your skin becomes leathery, making it harder for the dead cells to fall off. 

Sunscreen and moisturizer will keep your skin soft and flexible so it can replace itself the way it should. Use sunscreen, even during the winter and when you’re indoors near windows for long periods of time. 

Avoid thick creams or ointments. These can irritate your skin and clog your pores, preventing natural exfoliation.

Keep your face clean. Dirt and sweat will build up and clog your pores. This can lead to acne and skin problems. 

Removing the daily dirt from your face will allow your skin to exfoliate, which is the process of removing dead skin cells from the outside layer of your skin. Keep your face clean to help your skin shed the dead cells.

Use steroid medications as directed by your doctor. Avoiding long-term steroid use can also help, as such extended use is a known cause of milia.

Milia are small white bumps that can appear on your skin. They happen when dead skin cells that are supposed to fall off instead get trapped under the surface of your skin. Milia are harmless but can be prevented by practicing good skin care routines like washing twice daily and exfoliating. They can't be prevented in infants. Milia should go away on their own within a few weeks; if they don't, talk to your doctor about treatment options.

  • Is milia caused by fat? Milia is not caused by fat. It happens when dead skin cells that usually fall off naturally get caught under the surface of your skin.
  • What is the best product to remove milia? There are a few over-the-counter gel options, including adapalene gel. You may also try an exfoliation treatment to get rid of the dead skin cells. Tretinoin cream or minocycline may also help, but they require a prescription.
  • How do you get rid of milia on your face? Treatment options include washing your face daily and using over-the-counter options like exfoliation treatments.
  • How to remove milia at home? Retinol, exfoliators, and facial peels can be good options for treatment (not to be used on children). Talk to your doctor before home treatment, as some of these products are not for everyone. Your doctor may then try an in-office procedure for removal.