Milia: Definition, Causes & Treatment

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  • 0:03 What Are Milia?
  • 1:39 Causes
  • 2:23 Treatment
  • 3:05 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Sarah Lawson

Sarah has taught nursing courses and has a master's degree in nursing education.

Have you ever noticed small, white bumps across the nose and cheeks of a newborn and wondered what they were? Learn more about milia and its causes and treatments in this lesson.

What Are Milia?

Imagine looking at the adorable face of a newborn baby. You see her big eyes, round cheeks, and small nose and lips. Then you notice something unusual. You see little white bumps across her nose and cheeks. Is this baby acne?

No, this is not baby acne. These little white bumps are called milia. Milia are tiny white bumps, or cysts, that appear across the nose, cheeks, and chin of many newborn babies. They form when keratin becomes trapped in small pockets in the skin.

Some people may confuse milia for baby acne, but this is incorrect and there are differences between the two conditions. Baby acne is characterized by small red bumps and pustules on the baby's cheeks, chin, and forehead.

While it is possible to develop milia at any age, it typically affects newborns. Actually, approximately 50% of all newborns will have them. It is also possible to develop milia in other areas, such as the upper trunk and limbs. When these cysts develop inside the mouth they are called Epstein's pearls. They form in approximately 85% of all newborns.

Milia can be classified as either primary or secondary. Primary milia occur when keratin becomes trapped in the skin and is most common in newborns but can occur in older children or adults. Secondary milia look similar to primary milia and are the result of something clogging the skin. This is usually due to an injury, such as a burn or blister.


Milia forms when keratin becomes trapped in the outer layer of the skin. Keratin is a tough, structural protein found in hair and skin. When milia form in newborns, it is considered normal. When milia form in older children or adults, it is often secondary milia and associated with some kind of skin damage.

Some conditions with an increased risk of developing secondary milia include:

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