Milia are tiny, white lumps that can appear on the faces of newborn babies, as well as those of young children and adults. They usually don’t need treatment as they are harmless and usually go away by themselves. This page explains what to do.
What are milia?
Milia are small white benign bumps just under the surface of the skin. They most often appear on the face, and are particularly prominent on the eyelids and cheeks, but they can occur elsewhere. An individual milium is typically smaller than 1mm but can measure up to 3mm or more. They commonly occur on the faces of newborn babies, especially on the nose. Milia can also affect children and adults, with one type of milia causing pearly bumps around the eyes.
What causes milia?
Milia are a type of cyst containing dead skin cells (keratin).
Milia are formed when flakes of keratin get trapped just below the skin’s surface. They don’t hurt or itch.
Types of milia
There are many types of milia – here are the most common.
- Benign primary milia are usually clustered on the cheeks, eyelids, forehead and genitals of children or adults. These usually clear up naturally within a few weeks or months.
- Neonatal or congenital milia affect 40-50% of newborn babies and usually disappear in a few weeks or months without treatment.
- Secondary milia is a form of milia that may result from a rare disease, a medication or trauma. This form of milia may resolve spontaneously but tends to persist.
Milia are easy to identify and can be diagnosed by a doctor without any need for testing.
A similar condition to milia is neonatal or baby acne, which can also be diagnosed on sight.
Milia usually go away naturally without any treatment. They don’t leave scars and trying to squeeze or burst them at home is not recommended.
While around half of newborn babies have milia, the bumps usually go away without treatment in several weeks to months. They are hard to prevent but it can help to gently wipe your baby’s face every day.
Milia affecting children and adults can be more persistent.
If milia continue to concern you, see a GP, particularly if you notice any redness or swelling. The doctor may recommend a suitable cream.
In some cases, your doctor can remove milia by slicing off the top of individual cysts with a sterile blade or needle and squeezing them out. Milia may also be removed by your doctor by:
- burning them off with diathermy (high frequency heat treatment)
- freezing them with liquid nitrogen (cryotherapy)
- procedures such as dermabrasion or chemical peels
Last reviewed: May 2018