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What is Milia?

Nicole Madison
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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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.

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.

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.

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.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Nicole Madison
By Nicole Madison
Nicole Madison's love for learning inspires her work as a The Health Board writer, where she focuses on topics like homeschooling, parenting, health, science, and business. Her passion for knowledge is evident in the well-researched and informative articles she authors. As a mother of four, Nicole balances work with quality family time activities such as reading, camping, and beach trips.
Discussion Comments
By lightning88 — On Aug 20, 2010

@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!

By TunaLine — On Aug 20, 2010

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

By rallenwriter — On Aug 20, 2010

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.

By StormyKnight — On Aug 13, 2010

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

Nicole Madison
Nicole Madison
Nicole Madison's love for learning inspires her work as a The Health Board writer, where she focuses on topics like...
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