Milia are small, white or whitish cysts on the skin. They are most common in infants and most commonly appear on the face, although they occur in other age groups and on other parts of the body. About 40-50 percent of newborns in the U.S. have milia.
“Milia” is the plural word; one is called a “milium.” A milium is also known as a milk spot or an oil seed.
They do not require treatment. In babies, milia usually do not last longer than a few weeks. People old enough to care about how they look might seek to have them removed.
Most of the time, and especially if the patient is an infant, a doctor can diagnose milia by just looking at it. If it’s unclear whether the cysts are milia or some other type of skin condition, a skin biopsy can be useful. That’s a test in which a small piece of skin is removed and examined with a microscope.
Milia usually are not treated, because they are not harmful. Adolescents and adults might be concerned about what milia do to their appearance. In these cases, there are ways that a doctor can remove them. These include medical therapies such as regular application of adapalene gel which is over the counter or tretinoin cream which is a prescription. There are also surgical options which may involve using a needle to puncture the milia and squeezing out the contents, and/or cryotherapy, which is a technique that involves freezing the skin. Milia en plaque can sometimes be successfully treated with medicated creams or an antibiotic called minocycline.
You should not try to squeeze or scrape off milia on your own, as you might do with a pimple. This can scar the skin or cause an infection. But there are things you can do at home that can help:
Most cases of milia cannot be prevented. You can improve your chance of avoiding secondary milia, in particular, if you take steps to protect your skin. Avoiding excessive exposure to the sun, avoiding the use of thick facial creams/ointments, and exfoliating are things that will help.
For babies, milia usually last only a few weeks. They can persist longer in older children and adults. Secondary milia can be permanent. The scarring from improper treatment of milia, such as attempting to squeeze or scrape them off of your own face or your baby’s, can also be permanent.
Since milia affect your appearance, but not your health, the urgency of the situation depends on how much it’s bothering you. Adults with milia might want to see a dermatologist if exfoliating treatments at home do not seem to be helping.
Babies usually see doctors quite often on a schedule. If your baby’s milia seem to be persisting or if you are concerned for another reason, ask the doctor at your next visit.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 10/22/2018.