The Best Ways to Treat and Prevent Milia

Milia are tiny white bumps that can form on the face, most commonly on the skin around the eyes, nose, and cheeks. They can also be found on other areas of the body.

Milia are a cosmetic issue, not a medical problem. There's no reason to treat them unless they are bothering you.

This article explains what causes milia and the best and safest ways to get rid of them if you want to.

Ways to Treat Milia
Verywell / Brianna Gilmartin

Causes of Milia

Milia are small cysts that form when dead skin cells get trapped under your skin. They sometimes happen spontaneously (for no known reason), or they can happen in response to skin damage.

Milia that occur spontaneously are called primary milia. They are most commonly found on the:

  • Eyelids
  • Forehead
  • Cheeks
  • Genitals

These milia typically clear up on their own in a few months or less.

Secondary milia can form after your skin has been damaged in some way. These milia can sometimes be permanent. Causes of secondary milia include:

  • Injury or irritation
  • Rashes
  • Burns
  • Abrasive skin treatments
  • Inflammatory skin conditions
  • Too much sun exposure
  • Heavy skincare products
Primary Milia
  • Occurs spontaneously

  • Often on eyelids, forehead, cheeks, or genitals

  • Usually clear on their own

Secondary Milia
  • Caused by skin damage

  • Occur in the location where the skin is damaged

  • May be permanent

Multiple milia are visible under a woman's eye.

vchal / Getty Images

How to Get Rid of Milia

The contents of milia are not fluid like the contents of a pimple or pustule. Pustules are filled with a soft core of dead skin cells, sebum (skin oil), and pus. When you pop a pustule (which you shouldn't do) the fluid flows from the pore.

Unlike pustules, milia are tiny cysts. The little white lump inside them is very hard, almost like a grain of sand. It's made of a plug of keratinized (hardened) dead skin cells that have become trapped just below the surface of the skin. 

Because milia form under a thin layer of skin and not in a pore (like acne blemishes do) there is no opening in the skin to squeeze the plug out. Never try to pop milia. It won't work, and it can damage your skin and cause scarring.

But there are other ways to treat them.

1:40

Click Play to Learn How to Treat Milia

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

OTC Exfoliating Products

An over-the-counter (OTC) salicylic acid or glycolic acid product may help get rid of milia. The acne treatment medication Differin (adapalene) can also help. These products help remove dead skin cells on the surface of the skin. This is known as exfoliating the skin.

If you have just a few little bumps here and there, an OTC product may be all you need to get the results you're looking for. 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), then the next step is to 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.

Recap

OTC products are sometimes all you need to get rid of milia, but it can take a while for them to work. If those don't work, your dermatologist may prescribe a stronger exfoliating product.

Manual Extractions

The most effective treatment for milia is manual extraction, done by a professional. Also, the results are immediate.

This procedure is usually done by a dermatologist. A tiny opening is made 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. This procedure is sometimes called deroofing.

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 legally they may not be able to remove milia.

Warning: Don't Self-Extract

Do not try to self-extract milia. You could do some serious damage to your skin, especially around the delicate eye area, and even cause permanent scarring. 

Prevention

Several milia are visible on a cheek.

LeventKonuk / Getty Images

Primary milia can't be prevented, However, you can protect your skin from excessive sunlight and irritating skin care products, which might help prevent secondary milia. Exfoliating regularly to help clear away dead skin cells may also help.

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 to remove these bumps from your eyelid using a technique called manual extraction. Do not try to remove them yourself.

  • What happens if you pop milia?

    You can damage or scar your skin by squeezing milia and trying to pop them like a pimple. The center is hard tissue, so the skin needs to be opened slightly to remove the milia. Doing this yourself with fingers or a tool can cause a wound that might get infected.

Was this page helpful?
8 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. Cleveland Clinic. Milia.

  2. Yahya H. Idiopathic multiple eruptive milia: Report of a case in a Nigerian womanNiger J Clin Pract. 2018;21(3):395-396. doi:10.4103/njcp.njcp_43_17

  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. 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

  6. 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

  7. van der Zee HH, Prens EP, Boer J. Deroofing: a tissue-saving surgical technique for the treatment of mild to moderate hidradenitis suppurativa lesions. J Am Acad Dermatol. 2010 Sep;63(3):475-80. doi: 10.1016/j.jaad.2009.12.018

  8. American Academy of Ophthalmology. What are milia.