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  • Share your skin goals and snap selfies

  • Your dermatology provider prescribes your formula

  • Apply nightly for happy, healthy skin

How it works:

  • Share your skin goals and snap selfies

  • Your dermatology provider prescribes your formula

  • Apply nightly for happy, healthy skin

Ask the experts: How to treat milia

Let’s get to the bottom of what causes those little bumps—and what you can do about them.

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Curology Team
Nov 30, 2022 · 5 min read

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We’re here to share what we know — but don’t take it as medical advice. Talk to your medical provider if you have questions.
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Here at Curology, we currently focus on the diagnosis and treatment of acne, rosacea, and signs of aging. We do not treat some of the conditions mentioned in this article. This article is for informational purposes only.

Milia is a skin condition that causes small, dome-shaped, white or yellow bumps on the body, often on the forehead and cheeks. They typically form in groups and occur when keratin, a protein found in the hair, nail, and skin cells, becomes trapped underneath the skin’s surface. The location of milia can vary and affects people of all ages, though it’s frequently seen in newborns. This may be why milia are sometimes called “milk spots.”¹  

Here we’ll discuss the different types and symptoms of this condition and how to treat milia.

What are the symptoms of milia?

Milia symptoms include small, white, or yellow bumps that are not typically itchy or painful. That said, these bumps can (and in some cases do) become uncomfortable. They may appear red or irritated when they come in contact with rough fabrics. Popping them is not recommended. This can lead to inflammation and scarring.

Milia milium pimples

What are the different types of milia? 

There are primary and secondary types of milia,² which are classified according to their cause. Primary milia form from entrapped keratin (clogged pores) while secondary milia arise due to medications or during the healing process of a burn or another type of injury. 

Milia in newborns (congenital milia)

A type of primary milia, congenital milia often develops on newborns’ faces but may occur elsewhere on the body. It typically clears up within a few months.³ This type of milia may be mistaken for baby acne.

Primary milia (in older children and adults)

Primary milia commonly appear on the forehead and cheeks, around the eyelids, and on the genitals of older children and adults. While it may clear up within a few weeks, it can last longer. 

Milia en plaque

Milia en plaque is often associated with genetic or autoimmune skin disorders and can appear on the head and neck.⁴ These consist of reddish plaques covered in milia that can grow to several centimeters in diameter and are most commonly seen in middle-aged females. However, they can occur at any age. 

Multiple eruptive milia

This type of milia typically is typically widespread. The bumps can take their time to develop, occurring over a span of time, ranging from a few weeks to a few months.⁵

Traumatic milia

Traumatic milia form after injury, such as burns and rashes. These occur at the injury site and may become red and irritated. 

Drug or product-related milia 

Some drugs, products, and ingredients can trigger milia where the drug or product is applied, but this type of milia is less common. Ingredients that may trigger milia include steroids.

Who does milia affect?

Milia occurs in people of all ages, but it’s most commonly seen in newborn babies. In newborns, the cause is generally unknown, and in older children and adults, it may be caused by damage to the skin. Wondering what causes milia? The types of skin damage that may cause milia include the following:

  • Skin resurfacing procedures, such as dermabrasion or laser resurfacing

  • Blistering due to skin conditions 

  • Burns

  • Sun damage

  • Long-term use of steroid creams

How to treat milia

Blackhead cleansing on woman - Ask the experts: How to treat milia

Without treatment, neonatal milia will typically clear up within several weeks to months. For older children and adults, this can vary.⁶ While there is no medical reason for treatment, some older individuals with this condition who are experiencing discomfort may prefer to have them removed. Here’s how to get rid of milia on the face and body: 

  • Prescription-strength topical retinoids:⁷ Topical creams containing this powerful skincare ingredient, which is a derivative of vitamin A, help to increase the skin’s cell turnover rate, which can help to improve milia. They can be prescribed by your dermatology provider. 

  • Manual extraction: Also called deroofing or evacuation, this treatment involves a medical professional using a sterile tool to remove the contents. They will make a small opening in the skin’s surface with a sterile needle or small surgical blade and then push the hard plug of material inside the cyst out. It may sound painful, but often, no anesthetic is needed! 

  • Cryotherapy: A common removal method, cryotherapy uses liquid nitrogen to freeze the milia. 

  • Chemical peels: This treatment peels off the first layer of skin, revealing fresh, new skin underneath. 

  • Laser ablation: Milia are removed using a small laser, which is focused on the affected areas. 

  • Diathermy: Diathermy uses extreme heat to remove milia.

  • Destruction curettage: In this treatment method, milia are surgically scraped and cauterized.

Remember to never use products designed for adult skin on young children or babies when treating milia.

FAQs

Are milia and pimples the same? 

Milia and pimples are not the same. Pimples contain sebum and dead skin cells and often involve bacteria. Milia has a plug of hardened, or keratinized, dead skin cells. 

Can milia be prevented? 

Spontaneous milia cannot generally be prevented, but milia due to skin injury may be less likely to occur if you exfoliate regularly and avoid excessive sunlight and irritating products.

Give Curology custom skincare a try

If you think you’re experiencing a skin condition like milia, it’s best to seek help from an in-person medical provider. But if you’re struggling with other common skin conditions, like acne, signs of aging, or rosacea, we’re here for you. Curology helps take the guesswork out of your skincare routine—licensed dermatology providers work with you to examine your skin, assess your skincare goals, and provide custom treatment options.

Get your personalized skincare routine with Curology

Subject to consultation. 30-day trial. Just cover $4.95 in S&H.
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Signing up is easy. Just answer a few questions and snap some selfies to help us get to know your skin better. If Curology is right for you, we’ll pair you with one of our in-house licensed dermatology providers, who will create a personalized prescription formula to meet your specific skin goals. Our full line of skin care products will complete your routine, designed by dermatology providers to be non-comedogenic, dye-free, paraben-free, and hypoallergenic.

Interested? You can get a free month of Curology—just pay $4.95 (plus tax) to cover shipping and handling on your first box.*

• • •

P.S. We did the homework so you don’t have to:

  1.  Gallardo, Avila PP., Mendez MD. Milia. In: StatPearls [Internet]. (2022).

  2.  Gallardo, Avila PP., Mendez MD. Milia. Ibid.

  3.  O'Connor, Nina R., et al. Newborn Skin: Part I. Common Rashes. Am Fam Physician. (2008).

  4.  Berk DR, Bayliss SJ. Milia: a review and classification. J Am Acad Dermatol. (December 2008).

  5.  Gallardo, Avila PP., Mendez MD. Milia. Ibid.

  6.  Gallardo, Avila PP., Mendez MD. Milia. In: StatPearls [Internet]. (2022).

  7.  Gallardo, Avila PP., Mendez MD. Milia. Ibid.

* Subject to consultation. Subscription is required. Results may vary. Trial is 30 days.

Nicole Hangsterfer is a licensed physician assistant at Curology. She obtained her masters in physician assistant studies at the Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern in Chicago, IL.

• • •
Our medical review process:We’re here to tell you what we know. That’s why our information is evidence-based and fact-checked by medical experts. Still, everyone’s skin is unique—the best way to get advice is to talk to your healthcare provider.
Curology Team Avatar

Curology Team

Nicole Hangsterfer Avatar

Nicole Hangsterfer, PA-C

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