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What Are Milia Cysts?

by Zeeshan Khan

Milia are small, benign cysts that resemble whiteheads and can be found anywhere from the face, neck and upper body; especially areas exposed to sunlight. Although generally painless and self-limiting, they may sometimes be linked with blistering skin conditions, dermabrasion, certain medications or trauma.

Newborns often develop milia as tiny dome-shaped papules on their nose and cheeks that subside within weeks; home remedies like rose water and Manuka honey have not proven beneficial in treating this condition.


Milialar form when dead skin cells, keratin and sebum become trapped under the surface of skin. They appear as small white cysts on either face or body; most commonly seen near eyes, cheeks and nose but they can also occur on arms or genital area. Although they’re most prevalent among newborns and infants, they can affect people of all ages.

Milia aren’t infectious or spread from person to person, yet can still be highly irritating for those with sensitive or delicate skin.

Milia may resolve on its own in several weeks without treatment, particularly among newborns and infants. Gentle exfoliation with mild cleanser can help avoid dead skin build-up that leads to milia. Adapalene gel or prescription tretinoin cream medications may also speed cell turnover to accelerate prevention of new milia from appearing.


Milia are hard, white cysts or pimples that often form clusters on the forehead, cheeks, nose and eyelids. Although non-itching and painless, Milia may persist for weeks or even years before eventually dissipating on its own or being visible due to skin pigmentation changes on prominent facial features such as cheekbones. Although harmless in itself, Milia may still be unsightly due to their placement near prominent parts of the face where they may stand out more prominently than elsewhere on the body.

Newborns and infants are at greater risk for milia, though anyone of any age can develop it. Most often in adults it results from injuries such as burns, blisters or severe rashes (such as poison oak, ivy and sumac) or prolonged use of corticosteroids like medication.

Squeezing or popping milia can lead to infection and scarring, so it is wise to use an over-the-counter exfoliating cosmetic that contains salicylic acid, alpha hydroxy acid or retinol two to three times weekly for exfoliation purposes in order to remove dead skin cells that cause them.


Your healthcare provider can diagnose milia through a physical exam. Most often, they’re harmless and will disappear within several weeks to months on their own. Milia may appear around eyes, cheeks, genitalia and elsewhere on your body – they could also form after cosmetic procedures (chemical peels or laser treatments), waxing or trauma; as well as being associated with certain blistering skin diseases like epidermolysis bullosa.

Milia can be treated in various ways. Your healthcare provider might perform de-roofing – puncturing cysts to release their contents – which usually takes place in office settings without much discomfort or side effects.

Cryotherapy may also provide relief. Your healthcare provider will use liquid nitrogen to freeze off milia, which may result in some swelling or blistering that should go away over time. In addition, prescription retinoid cream (such as tretinoin) or oral antibiotic medication such as minocycline could provide aid.


There’s no foolproof way to avoid milia, but following a dermatologist-recommended skincare routine can help. Hydrating delicate eye areas with light serum or gel may reduce dryness that contributes to its formation; avoid excessive rubbing or touching as this can irritate skin and increase risk. Retinol-based exfoliation treatments or glycolic acid products may help unclog pores and lower risk. Sunscreen with high SPF should also be applied daily near eyes as well as cleaning makeup brushes frequently to remove product build-up that clogs pores.

Squeezing or popping milia can damage the skin and lead to scarring. A professional dermatologist may perform extraction with a sterile needle or minor procedure if they refuse to go away on their own, and maintaining a balanced diet and staying hydrated will also benefit the health of your skin.

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