Milia (the plural of ‘milium’) are small white or yellowish raised cysts, bumps or spots on the skin. They are normally found around the eye area and cheeks, but can appear anywhere on the face or body. It is very common to have several milia appear in clusters and they are very common in newborn babies where they are often referred to as 'milk spots'.
Unlike a pimple or spot, milia feel quite hard, almost like a small piece of grit under the skin, and do not have any redness or inflammation as you might expect with whiteheads or acne-related spots. Milia are not contagious or harmful in any way, but some people may feel self-conscious about them, especially if they are on an area of the skin which is very visible, such as the face. Milia can sometimes take a long time to disappear naturally, but can be professionally removed through a simple, minor procedure.
WHAT CAUSES MILIA?
Milia are caused when keratin (a naturally occurring protein) becomes trapped beneath the surface of the skin. Some dermatologists suggest this could be due to damage to the sweat glands after skin trauma (see below for ‘secondary milia’), or in the case of newborn babies, blocked sweat glands (see below for ‘neonatal milia’). Cell turnover usually slows down as we get older, making mature skin more susceptible to recurring milia.
TYPES OF MILIA
There are five main types of milia:
Neonatal milia or 'milk spots' are milia found on newborn babies. It is thought they are caused by sweat glands that haven't fully developed yet and so become blocked easily.
Primary milia can appear on children or adults. They can disappear without treatment, but tend to last longer in adults and can often be permanent.
These occur in areas after injury or trauma. It is thought that this is due to damage caused to the sweat glands in the affected area of skin. These can also be a result of using certain types of creams.
Milia en plaque
This is a rarer type of milia that develops on a raised and inflamed patch of skin called a 'plaque'.
Multiple eruptive milia
Another rare type of milia where clusters of milia appear over the course of a few weeks or months. This type of milia most commonly appears on the face, upper arms and the upper half of the torso.
SYMPTOMS OF MILIA
Milia don’t tend to be painful and aren’t harmful in anyway. Some people might become self-conscious about the way their skin looks if they have quite a lot of milia on their face. Trying to squeeze or pick at milia can cause the area to become inflamed, bruised or infected because they do not ‘pop’ in the same way as a pimple or whitehead. You might notice that you get a lot of milia in one particular area of skin; this is very common and doesn’t mean that the condition is spreading or contagious.
HOW CAN I PREVENT MILIA?
If you are prone to milia, adopting a good daily skincare regime can go a long way to keeping them at bay. An exfoliating cleanser will help to remove dead skin cells to stop them from building up on the skin and in pores, as will ensuring you thoroughly remove all makeup. Skin care products which contain vitamin A and retinol will also help to control skin cell build-up as they encourage new cell turnover.
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
What do milia look like?
Milia are usually very small, white or flesh-coloured bumps which are firm to the touch. They have a different appearance to a pimple or spot as they don’t have a head and cannot be squeezed. They are generally not red or inflamed (except for milia en plaque) and should not feel uncomfortable or painful. They usually appear on the skin around the eyes in groups, but it is possible to have just one milium at a time and they can occur on any part of the body, including the groin and genital area.
Are milia contagious?
Milia are not contagious so cannot be spread from person to person.
Are milia genetic?
There is no known genetic link with milia and the condition is not thought to be hereditary.
Can I remove milia myself?
Removing milia yourself is not recommended; to avoid infection, the treatment should be carried out in a safe clinical environment with sterile equipment. Removing milia from around the eyes yourself can be dangerous and should only be carried out by a qualified practitioner. Going to a regulated and qualified dermatologist is the best way to remove milia safely and effectively.
NATURAL/AT HOME REMEDIES FOR MILIA
Milia usually go away by themselves, naturally over time, but in some cases, they can take months or even years to disappear. Removing milia requires making a small incision in the skin to extract the contents of the cyst - they can’t be squeezed in the same way as a spot.
Regular exfoliation with a good exfoliating product and thorough removal of makeup before bed can help to prevent milia recurring, but will not remove existing milia. For a natural milia prevention remedy, you can make your own exfoliating treatment using sugar mixed with a natural oil, such as coconut.
Massage onto clean, damp skin in a gentle circular motion and then rinse with clean warm water. Use your exfoliator at least once or twice a week for the best results.