What are milia?
Milia (milk spots) are small, white cysts on your skin. Cysts are filled pockets under the surface of your skin. The most common place to find milia are on your face. Milia are harmless and only affect your appearance.
It’s common to confuse the white bumps on your face with whiteheads, which are a type of acne. Milia aren’t a type of acne.
What’s the difference between milia and milium?
“Milia” is the plural word for the small cysts called milk spots. One cyst is called a “milium.” A milium is also known as a single milk spot or an oil seed.
What are the different types of milia?
There are different types of milia including:
- Neonatal milia: Neonatal milia affects infants and causes white cysts to form on a baby’s skin, most often on or around their nose. This type of milia is present at birth.
- Primary milia: Primary milia are small cysts that are common on your eyelids, forehead, cheeks or genitals. They affect both children and adults.
- Secondary milia (traumatic milia): Secondary milia are small cysts that occur after damage to your skin, either from burns, rashes, blisters or sunlight exposure. They can also form as a reaction to a heavy skin cream or ointment.
- Juvenile milia: Juvenile milia are cysts that are a symptom of an inherited condition. These can be present at birth or show up later in life.
- Milia en plaque: This rare type of milia often affects women or people assigned female at birth between the ages of 40 and 60. The milia clump together on a raised patch of skin, usually behind your ears, on your eyelid, on your cheek or jaw.
- Multiple eruptive milia: This rare condition causes groups of cysts to form over weeks to months on your face, upper arms and upper abdomen. These cysts can be itchy.
How common are milia and who do milia affect?
Milia are most common among infants, but different types of milia can affect anyone at any age. About half of all healthy infants have milia when they’re born. Milia can appear later during infancy among premature babies.
How do milia affect my body?
Milia are harmless and only cause temporary cosmetic changes to your body or your newborn’s body. Small white bumps (cysts) form on your skin or your baby’s skin. These cysts usually disappear on their own after a few weeks.
Symptoms and Causes
What are the symptoms of milia?
Symptoms of milia include:
- White to yellow bumps (cysts) on your skin.
- Bumps can appear in groups or clusters.
- Bumps are asymptomatic and don’t cause pain or discomfort.
Depending on the type of milia, some can be itchy or form on a raised patch of skin.
Where will I have symptoms of milia?
Milia affects the skin on your body. They’re often located on your face. The most common places to find milia on your body include:
- On your eyelid or under your eyes.
- Arms or legs.
- Genitals such as your penis.
- Inside of your mouth.
What causes milia?
Trapped dead skin cells that form cysts below the surface of your skin cause milia. Your body naturally gets rid of dead skin cells by shedding them to make room for new cells to grow and take their place. When your old skin cells don’t fall off of your body, new skin grows on top of them and traps them underneath. Your dead skin cells harden and turn into cysts.
Additional causes of milia include:
- Damage to your skin from an injury or sun exposure.
- Long-term use of steroid creams or ointments.
- A symptom of a genetic condition.
- An autoimmune response.
Are milia contagious?
No, milia aren’t contagious and they don’t spread from person to person.
Diagnosis and Tests
How are milia diagnosed?
Your provider can diagnose milia after a physical exam to learn more about your symptoms. A visual exam of the cysts on your skin leads to an accurate diagnosis and tests aren’t usually necessary, especially among newborns. If your provider needs to further examine your skin, they may request a skin biopsy. For this test, your provider will remove a small piece of your skin to examine it under a microscope.
Management and Treatment
How are milia treated?
Milia don’t need treatment because they’re not harmful. If you don’t like how milia look on your skin, talk to your healthcare provider about removing them. Treatment to remove milia could include:
- Application of over-the-counter adapalene gel or prescription tretinoin cream.
- Surgically removing the milia in your healthcare provider’s office by using a needle to puncture the milia and squeezing out the contents.
- Cryotherapy to freeze the milia on your skin to remove them.
- Using medicated creams or the antibiotic minocycline to treat milia en plaque.
Can I remove milia at home?
You shouldn’t try to squeeze or scrape off milia on your own, as you might do with a pimple. This can scar your skin or cause an infection. There are things you can do at home that can help:
- Wash your face every day with warm water and gentle soap. Then dry your skin very gently. Pat your skin dry.
- Don’t use lotions or oils that are meant for adults on a baby. Infant skin is too delicate.
- Adults might try an over-the-counter treatment to exfoliate their skin.
- Use sunscreen when you go outdoors.
How long do milia last?
In babies, milia usually last for a few weeks after they’re born. Adults can have milia for a few weeks to a couple of months before they clear up on their own. If you prefer to get rid of milia faster, talk to your healthcare provider.
How can I prevent milia?
You can’t prevent most cases of milia, especially neonatal milia. You can reduce your risk of developing certain types of milia that occur later in life by:
- Avoiding excessive exposure to the sun.
- Temporarily using thick facial creams/ointments.
- Avoiding the use of steroids for longer than your provider prescribes.
- Frequently exfoliating or using a cleanser on your skin.
Outlook / Prognosis
What can I expect if I have milia?
For newborns, milia are very common and affect nearly half of all babies. The bumps on your baby’s skin are harmless and will go away on their own after a few weeks.
If you have milia and the bumps on your skin aren’t clearing up on their own, talk to your healthcare provider. They might suggest you visit a dermatologist or try new exfoliating techniques to help milia go away faster.
Some types of milia can last longer than a few weeks to months. Don’t try to pick at the bumps on your skin or try to squeeze them. This can lead to permanent scarring or an infection.
When should I see my healthcare provider?
If your or your baby’s milia isn’t improving after a few months, visit your healthcare provider. If your milia get worse or you don’t like how milia look on your skin, your healthcare provider can help offer treatment to clear up your skin.
What questions should I ask my doctor?
- How do I exfoliate my skin?
- What caused my milia?
- What should I do if milia don’t go away?
Frequently Asked Questions
Is neonatal milia the same as baby acne?
While neonatal milia and baby acne may look similar, they’re different conditions. Milia is present at birth. The condition causes cysts of dead skin cells to form below the surface of your baby’s skin. Baby acne causes small, red bumps or pustules on your baby’s face and scalp. Baby acne appears two weeks after your baby is born. Milia isn’t a type of acne.
A note from Cleveland Clinic
You don’t need to worry about small white bumps that form on your newborn’s skin. These are normal. Milia is a harmless condition that temporarily affects your appearance and the texture of your skin. The condition doesn’t need treatment and usually goes away on its own after a few weeks. Talk to your provider if your skin or your baby’s skin isn’t clearing up after several weeks.
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