Conditions

What are milia? (And how to get rid of milia)

illustration of milia condition
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This post is all about milia — including causes and how to get rid of milia (including milia on your eyelids and under your eyes).

What are milia?

Milia are small, pearly white or yellowish cysts that can occur on your face (including on your eyelids and under your eyes). They can occur elsewhere on your body as well.

Milia sometimes are called "milk spots" or "oil seeds" and typically milium cysts occur in clusters. ("Milia" is the plural of "milium.")

Milia are very common among newborns. In fact, nearly half of full-term newborn babies have at least some facial milia.

But teens and adults also can be affected by milia. These tiny skin bumps rarely become swollen or inflamed, but they can be bothersome cosmetically.

What causes milia?

Milia develop when dead skin cells or keratin (a protein found in skin and hair) get trapped under the surface of the skin, forming a raised "pinhead" bump that looks similar to a whitehead.

Why this happens is not fully understood, but milia are not acne, which is usually triggered by hormones and cause inflammation.

Sun damage is a risk factor for milia because it makes skin rough and leathery, so it's more difficult for dead cells to rise to the skin's surface and shed normally.

Milia also are associated with other kinds of skin damage from an injuries, medication or illness. These less-common forms are called secondary milia.

Sometimes, milia eventually disappear without treatment. But they also can be persistent and stick around unless steps are taken to remove them.

Milia treatment and removal

Milia often will disappear without treatment. For these reasons, milia removal often is unnecessary.

Milia occurring in newborns (neonatal milia) typically resolve on their own within a few weeks. Primary milia affecting older children and adults can either disappear within a few weeks or months, or they can persist longer.

Adults who find persistent milia bothersome or unsightly often seek treatment to remove them.

Milia on eyelids and under eyes often are persistent. To remove these surgically, see a dermatologist or an ophthalmologist who specializes in cosmetic eye surgery (including milia treatment).

NEED TO SURGICALLY REMOVE MILIA? See an ophthalmologist and use your FSA funds to cover the cost of the appointment.

Other strategies that may be used for milia treatment include chemical peels, laser ablation, cryotherapy (freezing) and diathermy (heat therapy).

Facial milia occurring away from the eyes (for example, on the cheeks, chin or alongside the nose) often can be safely removed at home using a sterilized needle, lancet or comedone extractor.

SEE ALSO: What an Eyelid Bump Called a Chalazion Looks Like

Comedones are plugged, often infected oil glands — also called blackheads and whiteheads — that are the primary signs of acne. A comedone extractor is a hand-held, pencil-shaped skin care tool that often has a sharp lancet on one end and a small looped or spoon-shaped extractor on the other end to treat acne lesions and milia.

Care should be taken to clean and disinfect a comedone extractor with isopropyl alcohol before and after use for milia treatment.

Though it may be safe and effective to get rid of facial milia with a comedone extractor, do not attempt to remove milia on your eyelids or under your eyes. Treatment of milia near the eyes should only be performed by a medical professional.

See an eye doctor near you if you have persistent milia on your eyelids or near your eyes for evaluation and treatment options, including milia removal.

Page updated June 2019

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