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Key facts

  • Milia are tiny and harmless white cysts that usually develop on your face and can also appear on other parts of your body.
  • Milia develop in children and adults when keratin protein get trapped in small harmless cysts under your skin.
  • Milia is a common condition — almost half of all newborns develop milia; children and adults can get it too.
  • Milia generally do not need treatment and mostly go away on their own.

What are milia?

Milia are common and harmless tiny pearly white bumps that appear just under the surface of your skin. They are usually smaller than 1mm but can sometimes be bigger than 3mm.

Image of Milia present on a babies nose
Milia are tiny, white lumps that appear on the surface of the skin.

There are a few types of milia:

Neonatal (newborn) milia: Almost half of all newborn babies have these. There may be a few or they may develop as a cluster. They are mostly found on a newborn’s face, especially on their nose. They can also appear on a newborn’s scalp, mouth (Epstein pearls), palate (Bohn nodules) or chest.

Primary milia in children and adults: These can develop around eyelids, cheeks, forehead and genitalia. In young children a row of milia may appear along the nose.

Secondary milia: These are milia that develop after there has been damage to your skin.

What are the symptoms of milia?

Classic signs of milia are small white spots. They are not itchy, painful or contagious. They usually disappear within a few weeks or months.

In newborns they are especially found on their nose. They can also develop on their scalp, upper body, mouth (known as ‘Epstein pearls’), palate (known as ‘Bohn nodules’) or elsewhere.

Among children and adults, they usually appear on the face as clusters on cheeks, eyelids or the forehead. They can also develop on your genitalia.

CHECK YOUR SYMPTOMS — Use the Symptom Checker and find out if you need to seek medical help.

What causes milia?

Neonatal and primary milia usually develop when keratin (a type of protein) gets trapped in small harmless cysts just below the skin’s surface.

Secondary milia develop after there has been a trauma (injury) to the skin. Causes include:

When should I see my doctor?

There is no urgent need to see a doctor if you or your child have milia.

If your newborn has neonatal milia and you notice a coloured rash or crusting around the milia, it is best to seek advice from your doctor or child health nurse.

To find a maternal, child and family health service near you, use the Pregnancy Birth and Baby Service Finder tool.

How is milia diagnosed?

Your doctor can diagnose milia by examining your skin. Milia are usually easy to identify. On rare occasions, your doctor will refer you for a skin biopsy if they are unsure of the cause of a cyst.

Milia treatment How is milia treated?

Treatment of milia depends on the type.

Neonatal milia usually go away on their own within a few weeks or months after birth. They don’t usually need any treatment.

Primary milia in children and adults and secondary milia can be more persistent. If they are bothering you, your doctor may treat your milia with one of the following treatment options:

  • burn them off using heat or electricity
  • freeze the milia
  • topical cream
  • pierce the milia with a sterile blade and remove the contents of the milia

It’s best not to scratch or burst them to avoid new milia from forming.

Can milia be prevented?

You cannot prevent milia. It may be helpful to wipe your newborn baby’s face every day to try prevent neonatal milia.

Resources and support

  • Pregnancy, Birth and Baby has advice about common childhood rashes.
  • You can call the healthdirect helpline on 1800 022 222 (known as NURSE-ON-CALL in Victoria). A registered nurse is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: October 2023

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