What Are Milia?

What Are These White Bumps on My Face?

Milia - Whiteheads or Closed Comedones
Milia or Whiteheads. Photo © Angela Palmer

Milia are a type of non-inflamed acne blemish.  Milia are hard closed comedones with very obvious white heads. Not to be confused with typical pimples (AKA pustules) milia are not red or inflamed.

It's not a pimple, it's milia.

That little white bump on your face is not a zit.  It won't pop (you've tried).  And, annoyingly enough, it won't go away.  What the heck is it?

Milia are white, hard, raised bumps on the skin.

  They're small, only about 1 to 2 millimeters in diameter.  Milia aren't painful, and they don't itch.  They're most common around the eyes and on the cheeks, nose, and forehead, but they can pop up anywhere.

While annoying, milia are harmless.

Milia happen when a plug of dead skin cells becomes trapped just beneath the surface of the skin.  Unlike a typical pimple (AKA a pustule) milia are neither red nor inflamed.

Milia tend to hang around a lot longer than your average pimple, too.  While a pustule will naturally heal within a few days time, milia can easily last for weeks or months. 

Here's some more skin trivia for you: one little white bump is called a milium.  If you're referring to a group of those little buggers you call them milia, the plural form of milium.

What causes milia?

Milia are super common.  If you have skin (and we all do) you're going to get a milium every now and again.

If you have acne and blackheads, you probably have milia as well.  But milia can develop even if you don't have common acne, and your skin is otherwise relatively clear.  It's completely normal.

Milia happen when the skin doesn't exfoliate, or shed dead cells, properly.  That white bump is the actual plug of skin cells and oil, hanging about so close to the skin's surface that it's very visible.

Milia can occur at any age, from newborn to 110 years old.  Some people are just more prone to developing them than others.

Most milia just appear, for no apparent reason.

Milia can also be triggered by injury to the skin, like burns and sunburns, blistering rashes, and the like.  Some medications can also cause milia, but that's very rare. 

Excessive sun exposure and sun damage also seem to make the skin more prone to developing milia.  This is another good reason to wear your sunscreen every day!

What can I do about milia?

While there's nothing you can do to completely prevent milia, there are a few steps you can take to minimize your chances of developing them. 

If you're prone to milia, you may firstly want to take a good look at what you're putting on your skin.  Thick, heavy moisturizers or eye creams can be a to develop these little pearly bumps.

You may want to experiment with different products to see if you get some improvement.  Look for products that are labeled oil-free or non-comedogenic.  These products are less likely to clog your pores, and may make it less likely that you'll develop milia.

Most milia will go away on their own, given enough time.  But, if you're not wanting to wait it out, there are ways to treat milia.

  Of course, you can always ask your dermatologist for advice.

You can also take a look at this article, to get you started: How To Treat Milia.

Source: "Milia." MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia. U.S National Library of Medicine. National Institutes of Health, 10 May 2013. Web. 19 May 2015.