Baby Milia: What to Know About These Little White Bumps on the Skin
Does your newborn baby have clusters of little white bumps on their face? There’s a good chance they are milia, which are sometimes called milk spots or milk bumps. You may have seen a few of these harmless cysts on your own face at some point, since adults get milia, too. But baby milia, particularly milia in newborns, is even more common. As many as half of all newborns have milia.
In babies, milia often appear on the nose, cheeks, eyelids or scalp, and sometimes on the gums or the roof of the mouth. Less commonly, they form on the upper toro. Read on to learn more about them and how long they last.
What causes milia in newborns?
Milia begin when dead skin cells get trapped in small pockets near the surface of the skin. The protein in those cells, called keratin, hardens into tiny cysts that look like raised white bumps on the skin.
It’s not clear why milia in newborns are so common. Genes may play a role. They are typically present at birth, but in premature babies, they may develop after a few weeks. Either way, they usually aren’t cause for concern.
“Milia are not typically associated with anything abnormal,” said Robin Gehris, MD, a board certified adult and pediatric dermatologist at Riverchase Dermatology.
Baby acne vs. milia
Parents commonly mistake milia on a newborn for baby acne, but milia aren’t whiteheads or any other form of acne. They are smooth, dome shaped and firmer than acne papules (bumps). In babies with light skin, they are typically white or yellowish. In babies with dark skin, they may have a faintly blue cast.
Unlike acne, milia don’t cause swelling, redness or inflammation. The bumps can’t be “popped” like pus-filled acne blemishes can because they don’t have an opening at the top.
Another difference: While newborn acne most often appears when the baby is about two weeks old, milia in full-term babies are usually present at birth or develop within a few days.
How to get rid of milia on a newborn
In most cases, milia will disappear by the time your baby is one month old.
“I see parents who think their baby’s milia need to be treated, but most of the time milia resolve on their own,” said Dr. Gehris.
In the meantime, follow these tips:
- Wash your baby’s face every day with warm water. If you want to use a cleanser, choose one that’s mild and unscented. Pat the skin dry; don’t rub.
- Don’t use an exfoliating product intended for adults on your baby, since these products are too harsh for a newborn’s skin.
- Never pick at, squeeze or try to pop the milia. They won’t go away, and you may create scars.
If your baby still has milia after a few weeks or has a large number of milia, see a pediatric dermatologist to rule out other baby skin conditions and discuss treatment.
Medically reviewed by Robin Gehris, MD
Written by Jessica Brown, a health and science writer/editor based in Nanuet, New York. She has written for Water’s Edge Dermatology, Prevention magazine, jnj.com, BCRF.org, and many other outlets.