How To Get Rid of Milia On Your Face

Those little white bumps under your eyes aren't acne.

Do you ever notice white or yellow bumps under your eyes or on your eyelids, nose, or cheeks? Those stubborn bumps might not be acne but milia, tiny cysts that form under the skin.

Milia develop when bits of dead skin cells "get trapped below the skin and create a really hard, little, white ball," explained Neil Fenske, MD, a dermatologist in Tampa, Fla. Inside the cyst is keratin, a protein in both skin and hair.

Milia can grow up to two millimeters, but they're often smaller. And while they can develop in anyone, the bumps are most common in newborns.

"About half of infants will have milia, usually presenting on the face," said Nkanyezi Ferguson, MD, clinical associate professor of dermatology at the Roy J. and Lucille A. Carver College of Medicine at the University of Iowa. "In newborns, the milia will usually resolve on their own within four weeks without need for treatment and without scarring."

Milia in adults are much the same, although they may last longer. But in any case, milia are harmless and usually don't need treatment. Here's what you need to know about milia, including what causes those tiny white bumps and how to prevent them.

What Causes Milia?

Some research suggests that milia may appear due to several factors, including:

  • Genetic skin disorders—such as porphyria cutanea tarda (a metabolic disorder affecting the skin) or epidermolysis bullosa (a condition that causes the skin to be fragile)
  • Prolonged use of topical steroids
  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs

Additionally, "Milia can develop in an area following a blistering process or superficial ulcers from either trauma or procedures," explained Dr. Ferguson. In those cases, the tiny white bumps are called secondary milia and can appear anywhere on your body.

Secondary milia occur due to factors such as:

  • Burns
  • Dermabrasion
  • Radiotherapy

"When blisters heal, little remnants [of skin] get trapped in there," noted Dr. Fenske. A similar process happens with some sunburns. "We'll see some milia as skin peels off and little bits of epidermis get trapped."

How Do You Prevent Milia?

You can help protect your skin and reduce the likelihood of developing milia by:

  • Wearing sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30 to prevent sunburn
  • Using topical retinoids, which increase skin cell turnover rate
  • Practicing proper skin care (like cleansing your face daily or exfoliating occasionally)
  • Trying a facial peel

How To Get Rid of Milia

Unfortunately, there's no safe way to eliminate milia at home. However, you don't need to treat milia because they usually go away on their own within a few weeks or months.

"They really are stuck to the skin," explained Michele S. Green, MD, a dermatologist in New York. "Nothing but an extraction would remove them."

So, if they're bothering you, consult your dermatologist.

"Milia are benign and do not require treatment," Dr. Ferguson said. "A dermatologist can help make the diagnosis of milia if you are concerned about the appearance. A dermatologist can also help remove milia if they are irritated or if they bother you cosmetically."

The process is relatively easy, said Dr. Fenske, adding that "They're very superficial, but you can't really squeeze them out. We can just take a tiny little blade, make a little nick in it, and flick it out."

In the meantime, don't pick at milia. That'll only make it worse.

A Quick Review

Sometimes, people confuse milia with acne, but they are a different type of skin growth. Milia are common and harmless cysts with keratin inside. Likely, milia go away on their own without treatment. 

If milia become inflamed, or you're bothered by how they look, consult a dermatologist who can diagnose and possibly extract them during an office visit.

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Sources
Health.com uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Gallardo Avila PP, Mendez MD. Milia. In: StatPearls. StatPearls Publishing; 2022.

  2. National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences. Porphyria cutanea tarda.

  3. National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases. Epidermolysis bullosa.

  4. Gallardo Avila PP, Mendez MD. Milia. In: StatPearls. StatPearls Publishing; 2022.

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