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What is Milia?

Milia are tiny, white cysts that appear like pearls under the skin, often around the eyes and cheeks. They're formed when keratin becomes trapped beneath the surface. While common and harmless, many seek removal for cosmetic reasons. Intrigued by these skin jewels? Discover how they develop and the safe ways to bid them farewell in our comprehensive visual guide. Ready to learn more?
Nicole Madison
Nicole Madison
Nicole Madison
Nicole Madison

Milia are tiny white bumps that typically appear on or around a person's chin or nose but can also appear on the cheeks and forehead. They can appear at any age but are most common in newborns and may appear because of immature sebaceous glands. They are so common that approximately 50 percent of all babies have them at some point. They do not hurt, and the best treatment for babies with this condition is actually no treatment at all. It is recommended, however, to wash an affected baby's face with warm water at least twice per day and pat it dry.

Milia are set deeply in the skin. They are caused by skin cells that are trapped in small pockets near the skin's surface. Normally, these skin cells would shed naturally, but instead, they get blocked and form very small, keratin-filled cysts, looking like tiny white beads just below the skin. Though they are most common under the skin, these tiny bumps can also occur on the mucous membranes.

Oily skin care products can cause people to develop milia.
Oily skin care products can cause people to develop milia.

Though babies are simply born with milia, there are some causes that can be pinpointed in adults. For example, using heavy, oily skin care products may cause them to develop. Overexposure to the sun over a prolonged period of time may lead to their development as well. Likewise, some skin disorders, especially those that cause blistering, may be associated with the development of these bumps, and disruption of the sweat glands may also be at fault. Unfortunately, however, some people are simply more prone to them because of genetics.

A comedone extractor with a sharp point can be used on a whitehead.
A comedone extractor with a sharp point can be used on a whitehead.

In most cases, milia fade on their own as the surface of the skin is gradually worn away. However, there are some cases in which a person may want to get rid of them faster. An adult who feels embarrassed by their presence may desire a more speedy removal. In such a case, exfoliation may help to prevent milia from forming and hasten their exit.

To get rid of adult milia, some people visit a dermatologist and undergo microdermabrasion. Others may try glycolic acid peels. At home, over-the-counter facial scrubs and peels may be helpful as well. However, it is best to choose gentle exfoliators at home to avoid damaging the skin. Additionally, those who are seeing a dermatologist should seek her advice before using an over-the-counter exfoliator at home.

People with reoccurring milia may seek the advice of a dermatologist.
People with reoccurring milia may seek the advice of a dermatologist.

Sometimes, exfoliation isn't enough and a patient will want milia removed immediately. For this, a dermatologist uses a sterile needle or lancet to open the skin over them. An instrument called a comedone extractor is then used to apply pressure, causing the cysts to pop out. This procedure can be performed without anesthesia, as it is generally painless. However, it may sting a little.

Nicole Madison
Nicole Madison

Nicole’s thirst for knowledge inspired her to become a TheHealthBoard writer, and she focuses primarily on topics such as homeschooling, parenting, health, science, and business. When not writing or spending time with her four children, Nicole enjoys reading, camping, and going to the beach.

Learn more...
Nicole Madison
Nicole Madison

Nicole’s thirst for knowledge inspired her to become a TheHealthBoard writer, and she focuses primarily on topics such as homeschooling, parenting, health, science, and business. When not writing or spending time with her four children, Nicole enjoys reading, camping, and going to the beach.

Learn more...

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Discussion Comments

lightning88

@tunaline -- No, milia are not usually symptoms of erythema or Degos' disease.

Erythema is a red, itchy rash that normally shows up on the body, whereas milia usually show up on the face. Also, milia are almost always white, but erythema lesions are red and large, not small and white.

Degos' disease, on the other hand, can have white lesions, but again, they appear more commonly on the body, and may also be red. Degos' disease also comes with lot of other symptoms, including abdominal pain and diarrhea.

Milia are rarely if ever associated with other symptoms.

Hope that helps!

TunaLine

Are milia a symptom of erythema or Degos' disease? I really need help, this biology homework is killing me!

rallenwriter

This is a nice article -- I work in a spa, and many people come in complaining of "mini acne" spots that are actually milia.

Your aesthetician may call them closed comedones or whiteheads, because they're basically just blackheads with skin closing the top of the pore.

As with other dermatologic disorders, it is really better to have a dermatologist take care of them. If you try to pick them open by yourself, they can get infected, or just come back again and again.

StormyKnight

Great article! I never knew that that's what those little bumps were!

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    • Oily skin care products can cause people to develop milia.
      By: picsfive
      Oily skin care products can cause people to develop milia.
    • A comedone extractor with a sharp point can be used on a whitehead.
      By: F.C.G.
      A comedone extractor with a sharp point can be used on a whitehead.
    • People with reoccurring milia may seek the advice of a dermatologist.
      By: michaeljung
      People with reoccurring milia may seek the advice of a dermatologist.
    • Microdermabrasion or laser skin treatments may be effective against milia.
      By: spotmatikphoto
      Microdermabrasion or laser skin treatments may be effective against milia.
    • Exfoliation may help prevent milia.
      By: belahoche
      Exfoliation may help prevent milia.
    • Excessive perspiration or disruption of sweat glands may lead to milia in adults.
      By: jedi-master
      Excessive perspiration or disruption of sweat glands may lead to milia in adults.
    • Some milia should be drained by a dermatologist, because popping them at home may lead to scarring.
      By: Ocskay Bence
      Some milia should be drained by a dermatologist, because popping them at home may lead to scarring.
    • Milia are most common in newborns.
      By: jamdesign
      Milia are most common in newborns.