What to Know About Milia

Medically Reviewed by Stephanie S. Gardner, MD on April 26, 2022
4 min read

Milia are patches of white bumps on your face. Not much is known about these little white bumps, but they aren’t dangerous and don’t need treatment.  

Milia are tiny white bumps (pimples or cysts) on your skin. 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. 

Milia look like small white bumps on the cheeks, chin, or nose. 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. 

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

Your body sheds dead skin cells to make way for fresh new ones. 

Milia happen when the dead skin cells don’t slough 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

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

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

It’s fine to let milia be. 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. An over-the-counter exfoliating cosmetic with salicylic acid, alpha hydroxy acid, or a retinoid can help remove the dead skin cells. 

Baby skin is too delicate for lotions, oils, or other cosmetics. Wash your baby’s face with warm water and baby soap daily and then pat the skin dry. Wait for the milia to clear. 

If your milia don’t clear up on their own or with the help of over-the-counter exfoliation treatment, your doctor can find a treatment plan. A dermatologist can do a simple procedure to surgically remove the milia. 

Milia can’t totally be prevented. For adults, good skin care can help prevent milia and other conditions. 

Use sunscreen and moisturizer. Milia tends 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 grime from your face will allow your skin to exfoliate. Keep your face clean to help your skin shed the dead cells. 

Start early. If you and your child are prone to milia breakouts, teach them the importance of protecting their skin. As they get older, show them how to protect themselves from the sun’s rays, including using sunscreen and wearing hats and other protective clothing.