How to Remove Milia

Safe ways to get rid of tiny white bumps on your face

Table of Contents
View All
Table of Contents

There is no medical reason to remove milia—small, white bumps that form on the face when dead skin cells get trapped under the skin. However, if you don't like how they look, milia can be removed. This can be done by:

  • Manual extraction by a dermatologist
  • Over-the-counter exfoliating skincare products
  • Topical prescription retinoids

This article explains the best and safest ways to get rid of milia if you want to. Note that these suggestions are for adults only.

Note that these suggestions are for adults only. Neonatal milia—bumps that appear on newborns—do not need to be treated. They will typically go away on their own in a few weeks. Products meant to treat adult skin can be harmful to newborn skin.

Ways to Treat Milia
Verywell / Brianna Gilmartin

Manual Extractions

The most effective treatment for milia is manual extraction done by a professional. Also, the results are immediate. Sometimes called deroofing, this procedure is usually done by a dermatologist.

They make a tiny opening in the surface of the skin with a small surgical blade called a lancet. The hard plug of material is then gently pushed out through the opening with the doctor's fingers or a tool called a comedone extractor.

It may sound like a painful procedure, but it's not. No anesthetic is needed; at worst, you'll feel a prick. 

In some cases, milia extractions may be done by an esthetician, someone who works at a salon or skin spa. Some states don't allow estheticians to pierce the skin, though, so not all of them are permitted to offer this service.

Can You Pop Milia?

Because milia form under a thin layer of skin and not in a pore, there is no opening in the skin to squeeze the plug out. Never try to pop or otherwise extract milia. It won't work, and it can cause infection, serious skin damage, and even permanent scarring. 

OTC Exfoliating Products

If you have just a few little bumps here and there, you may want to try an over-the-counter (OTC) product first.

Options include:

These products help exfoliate the skin, or remove dead skin cells from its surface.

Be ready to use them for the long haul, though. Milia are stubborn and it can take months to see any improvement.

If you have lots of milia, if they've been around for ages even while using OTC treatments, or if they're in a spot that's difficult for you to treat with OTC products (like your eyelid), see a dermatologist.

Topical Retinoid Prescriptions

If you're prone to developing milia, and some people just are, your dermatologist may recommend you use a prescription topical retinoid.

Topical retinoids help exfoliate the skin more effectively than OTC products. Topical retinoids also help loosen the keratin plug in existing milia and help them come to the surface so they can go away.

1:40

Click Play to Learn How to Treat Milia

This video has been medically reviewed by Casey Gallagher, MD.

Summary

Milia are tiny cysts that form under the skin, usually on the face. Because milia are just a cosmetic issue, the choice to treat them or not is up to you. Treatment isn't necessary and they can go away on their own over time. If milia bother you, though, treatments can improve them.

Keep in mind that other things can cause white bumps on the skin. Unless you're 100% sure it's milia, you may want to have your bumps checked out by your doctor.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How do I get rid of milia on my eyelids?

    See a dermatologist or an ophthalmologist for manual extraction of milia from an eyelid. This skin is particularly sensitive. Do not try to remove the milia yourself.

  • Are milia the same as pimples?

    No. Pimples are filled with a soft core of dead skin cells, sebum (skin oil), and bacteria. When you pop one—which you shouldn't do—the fluid flows from the pore. Milia are filled with a plug of keratinized (hardened) dead skin cells and cannot be popped.

  • What do milia feel like?

    Milia are tiny cysts. The little white lump inside them is very hard, almost like a grain of sand.

  • Can milia be prevented?

    The kind of milia that appear on the skin spontaneously can't be prevented. Those related to skin injury may be preventable by protecting your skin from excessive sunlight and irritating skin care products and regularly exfoliating your skin.

5 Sources
Verywell Health 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. Hinen HB, Gathings RM, Shuler M, Wine Lee L. Successful treatment of facial milia in an infant with orofaciodigital syndrome type 1. Pediatr Dermatol. 2018;35(1):e88-e89. doi:10.1111/pde.13350

  2. Kurokawa I, Kakuno A, Tsubura A. Milia may originate from the outermost layers of the hair bulge of the outer root sheath: A case report. Oncol Lett. 2016;12(6):5190-5192. doi:10.3892/ol.2016.5335

  3. Andriessen A, Rodas Diaz AC, Gameros PC, Macias O, Neves JR, Gonzalez CG. Over the counter products for acne treatment and maintenance in Latin America: A review of current clinical practiceJ Drugs Dermatol. 2021;20(3):244-250. doi:10.36849/JDD.5779

  4. De Wet J, Jordaan HF, Visser WI. Bilateral malar milia en plaque as primary presentation of discoid lupus erythematosus. JAAD Case Rep. 2017;3(2):106-109. doi:10.1016/j.jdcr.2017.01.010

  5. Cleveland Clinic. Milia.

By Angela Palmer
Angela Palmer is a licensed esthetician specializing in acne treatment.