What is Milia?

Individuals with Milia have small bumps on the surface of their skin. This condition can occur in people of all ages, but it is most common in newborn babies. There are several classifications of these minuscule cysts and various reasons why they occur.

Neonatal and primary milia are caused by keratin protein that builds up underneath the skin. Individuals with milia en plaque have an autoimmune or genetic condition that causes the bumps to appear. Traumatic milia are the result of skin injuries, such as a rash or a burn. Although uncommon, some people get milia from using a topical steroid medication.

What are the Symptoms of Milia?

These tiny white or yellow protuberances appear in clusters, and on newborns, they appear on the baby’s face, scalp and the upper portion of the body. Individuals who have primary milia will notice these bumps on their forehead, eyelids and genitals. Milia en plaque can also appear on the eyelids, as well as the jaw, cheeks and ears.

When individuals have skin lesions due to injuries, traumatic milia will appear at the location of the injury. There is often skin irritation with this type of milia, which causes redness in the outer perimeter of the cysts. Some individuals with milia report itchiness in the skin, but usually, there are not any other symptoms besides the presence of the cysts.

Milia Causes

Both adults and children can get milia, though the causes are different in both of these groups. In both age groups, the general cause of milia is tiny flakes of skin becoming enclosed in small pockets, creating entrapped skin cells that are held near the skin’s surface. When infants get this condition, the cause is unknown. Many infants with this condition are born with it. And though it may look like baby acne, it is not a related condition and is not caused by the mother’s hormones.

In adults who get milia, there are several possible causes. It is often associated with skin damage of some type. When the skin blisters, as with a sunburn or from certain skin conditions, this can result in milia. Injuries that cause blistering, such as an outbreak of poison ivy, the skin damage can cause milia. Sun damage that goes on long-term is another common cause. There are many steroid creams that can cause this reaction when they are used long-term. In addition, many skin-resurfacing treatments, such as laser resurfacing, chemical peels and dermabrasion, can all create the kind of skin damage that results in milia.

How is Milia Treated?

When babies have this condition, the cysts will eventually leave after a couple of weeks, so they do not need any type of treatment. Adults and children with milia may have it for a few months before it disappears completely. On occasion, if the cysts become problematic, there are various treatments available.

Topical ointments can be applied to the cysts to clear them up. A procedure that freezes the cysts, called cryotherapy, is often used for removal. Additional treatments include destruction curettage, diathermy, deroofing, laser ablation and chemical peels.

Milia Prevention

In infants, there is no way to prevent this skin condition. For adults, there are several ways to reduce your risk of developing milia. One of the best ways is to avoid any activities or procedures that would damage the skin. While getting too much sun can result in blistering that causes milia, using heavy creams like sunscreen on the face can also cause it. Avoiding the sun is the best way to avoid these risk factors. When you use makeup, be sure to use types that are oil-free or that are labeled as noncomedogenic. Keep your face clean, washing it regularly and exfoliating as necessary.

Last Reviewed:
October 07, 2016
Last Updated:
March 08, 2018