All About Those Tiny White Bumps, aka Milia

Ever wonder what those little white bumps are on your skin? Maybe you mistook one for a whitehead and tried to pick at it to no avail? This is because they aren’t pimples, they’re called milia (milium if there’s just one) and they’re tiny, white, firm papules, which is the medical term for these types of small, raised bumps.

Milia is extremely common in babies — researchers say that up to 50 percent of newborns get them — but people are susceptible to a milium cyst at any age. Even though milia are NOT dangerous and will disappear on their own a lot of the time, we know it can be frustrating to play the waiting game for them to go away. Here is a crash course on milia, and the best ways to treat and avoid them!

Milia near the eyes

3 minute read


What are milia?

Put simply, milia are tiny (less than three millimeter) superficial cysts that form when skin cells (called keratin) become trapped instead of naturally shedding. The keratin gets lodged under a layer of protective skin tissue and forms those little white bumps along the skin.

While milia can be annoying, they usually aren’t itchy or painful. Because they’re on the skin’s surface, trying to pop them will usually just irritate the skin around them, increasing your risk of skin infection and permanent scarring.

Can you stop milia from forming?

The answer isn’t a straight yes or no, but you can make changes to your lifestyle and routine that may help prevent milia from forming. Usually, milia are the result of problems on the skin’s surface, but it can be hard to pinpoint their exact cause. Here are some tips you can try at home:

  • Avoid applying heavy, occlusive products on your skin. These can coat the skin and inhibit the natural removal of dead skin cells. That includes everything from thick creams and ointments, to makeup and even lip balm.
  • Keep exfoliating, but ditch the microbeads. If you’re noticing a lot of little white bumps, alter your beauty routine by making sure your skin care products are light, non-comedogenic, and not filled with harmful microbeads. Consider replacing exfoliants with microbeads with a gentle, chemical exfoliator, like SLMD Salicylic Acid Cleanser.
  • Be sure to always wear SPF! Milia are often associated with damage to the skin: blisters, burns, skin resurfacing procedures, and sun damage. Lightweight and oil-free sunscreens like Dual Defender SPF 30 are formulated with acne-prone skin in mind, protecting and moisturizing the skin at once. 
SLMD Retinol Serum

How do you treat milia?

Most of the time, milia bumps will disappear over time as your skin starts to shed dead skin cells. Aside from being patient, you can speed up the process using gentle exfoliators that contain chemical exfoliants such as alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs) and beta hydroxy acids (BHAs).Topical retinols, like SLMD Retinol Serum and Night Light Retinol Eye Cream, can help speed up the cell turnover process. 

If you just want them gone, consult with your dermatologist — they can perform a simple evacuation by incising the milia, then extracting the tiny but firm pearl under the skin. Light electrocautery, chemical peels, laser surgery, and dermabrasion are also methods of removal. 

It’s always best to consult with a specialist before trying to diagnose yourself. Be patient with your skin and these tiny, little bumps in the road!


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