How to Treat Milia, According to Experts

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Milia are perhaps one of the lesser-known skin concerns that are actually super common. They often show up out of nowhere: a smattering of milky-white, tiny bumps that can appear on your face, typically occurring around your eye area. Almost undetectable, unless peering close into the mirror, they're similar to whiteheads and a completely harmless cosmetic issue, albeit an annoying one.

It's important to note: these are not a type of acne and should be treated differently. If you're frustrated with the sight of pesky milia on your face and wishing to get rid of them ASAP, we're here to help. Experts Mariam Abbas, an advanced facialist with a special interest in skin health, and Maryam Zamani, MD, oculoplastic surgeon and facial aesthetics doctor, share their knowledge on milia causes and treatment methods to remove them.

What Are Milia?

"Milia are generally small, benign keratin cysts that lie just beneath the top layer of skin, commonly appearing as little white bumps on the face," Dr. Zamani tells POPSUGAR. While they aren't anything to be concerned about, they can affect self-esteem. Abbas adds, "These pearly-white deposits can be annoying to have, but they are not harmful, infectious, or contagious. They typically appear in areas of finer and drier skin, around the eyes, temples, and above the cheekbones."

When you first detect a sprinkling of milia, you may confuse them with pimples, such as whiteheads, but despite their similar appearance, they're not the same. Whiteheads are produced by an accumulation of dead skin cells, makeup, and sebum. Milia are a kind of cyst rather than a breakout and often feel quite hard. They usually group in clusters on your face. (A singular milia spot is called a milium, but it's uncommon to find just one.)

Milia Causes

Milia often occur due to a buildup of a natural skin protein, called keratin, becoming caught just below the skin's surface. And according to Abbas, it "primarily develops in lipid dry skin, which is skin that doesn't produce enough natural oils." This explains why a lot of milia occur on eyelids or beneath the eyes as, unlike the rest of your face, this area doesn't hold any oil glands that can help to keep skin moist. So using thick face creams around the eye area can exacerbate milia. Instead, choose treatments specifically created for use around your sensitive eyes.

Babies often experience milia at birth, but generally, the spots disappear within the first few months. Contrary to popular belief, milia can be referred to as milk spots, but they have nothing to do with actual milk. Instead, it's the milky-white color of milia that garnered the name. However, milia in adults, aka secondary milia, can occur after damage to the skin. "This can be from burns, rashes, or UV exposure, or from use of heavy creams or ointments," Dr. Zamani says.

Milia Removal

When you first notice a few spots on your face, you may be wondering how to get rid of milia at home. Rule number one: do not squeeze milia spots. Milia don't contain any fluid, so compressing them will actually cause more damage and make them even more noticeable. And because they're not pimples, blemish remedies like benzoyl peroxide will not be effective. Instead, an at-home milia treatment is daily exfoliation with salicylic acid to help remove dead skin cells and reveal fresh skin. It's also recommended to use a gentle paraben-free cleanser and introduce retinol to kick-start cell turnover.

If the milia spots don't go away, it may be necessary to contact a professional to have them removed. "Milia can resolve on their own, but they can also be treated in-clinic with a tiny incision with a blade and extracted," Dr. Zamani says. To prevent any kind of infection, this kind of milia removal should only be carried out in a safe professional clinic using sterile equipment. "Thermo-coagulation with a diathermy current (similar to electrolysis) is a great way to zap them," Abbas says. "The milia will shrink and scab for a day or two before naturally shedding. Another option is to freeze milia using cryotherapy, which causes it to shrink and disappear without any collateral damage to the skin." Milia removal isn't completely painless, but after a quick pinch, it's over.

Read ahead to see some of the best skin-care treatments to prevent milia from forming.