how to prevent, treat and remove milia seeds

What are milia seeds? You may never have heard the term, but you may have noticed them around your eyes. They look like tiny white bumps, but they’re not whiteheads. They’re too small to be pimples. When you try to pop them, they don’t pop. What’s going on with your skin? These tiny bumps are milia seeds (also called milk spots). They’re common but super hard to treat. Prevention is key here. But if it’s too late for that, don’t fret. You can still treat milia once they rear their ugly heads. Here’s all you need to know to prevent and treat milia seeds:

What Are Milia Seeds?

Milia seeds are fleshy-coloured, keratin-filled bumps that look like whiteheads (but aren’t). They’re more common in newborns and around the eye areas, but adults can get them too – all over the face.

Milia are tiny white bumps on the skin that are often mistaken for pimples and occur when the skin cells don’t turn over rapidly enough and a buildup of keratin—a protein found in the skin—hardens and becomes trapped,” says Astarita, founder of Just Ageless Body Sculpting and Beauty Lab in New York City. “These can linger for years if not treated.”

Milia Seeds VS Whiteheads

Both milia seeds and whiteheads like look white bumps of skin. But, there’s a key difference between them. Whiteheads are closed comedones. They pores is clogged by sebum and skin cells trapped under the skin. They’re filled with pus. They can be popped.

Milia seeds “are made up of keratin, a protein on the outer layer of the skin, and whilst they resemble whiteheads, they are not related to acne or infection and are simply a pocket of normal skin. They shouldn’t be treated in the same way,’ says Consultant Dermatologist at Skin 55 Dr. Anjali Mahto. They have a pearly white, spheric appearance and they can’t be popped.

Types Of Milia Seeds

There are different types of milia seeds:

  • Neonatal milia: Usually found on the nose, scalp, face, inside the mouth and upper trunk. They can be confused as neonatal acne, but they don’t cause redness. Milia affects 50% of newborns, making an appearance around 2 weeks after birth. They can disappear on their own after a few weeks. 
  • Primary milia: Found on the foreheads, cheeks, and eyelids, they’re common both in adults and children. They may go after a few weeks, but you can still treat them to speed up the process.  
  • Milia en plaque: Milia seeds that clamp together over a raised patch of skin. This plaque is flat and broad, with clearly defined boundaries. They’re usually on your jaw, eyelids, cheeks, and beyond your ears. They’re common in children and adults, especially middle-aged women.
  • Multiple eruptive milia: This type of milia is very rare. You get several bumps in the same area after many months, usually on the upper arm, face, and trunk. It can feel itchy. 
  • Traumatic milia: A.k.a. secondary milia, it typically happens when skin has been injured (for example, an allergic reaction, blister, or burn). This type of milia seed is usually permanent.

What Causes Milia Seeds?

Milia seeds are caused by buildups of dead skin cells, lack of exfoliation, and moisturisers and sunscreens that are too rich for your skin type. This build up gets trapped in your pores, leading to these white little bumps. They’re not painful and don’t cause any negative side effects, but they’re unsightly. If you have them, you probably want to get rid of them, pronto.

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How Long Do Milia Seeds Last?

Left untreated, milia can last up to a few months or even years in older children and adults. There are also secondary milia, i.e. milia that forms as your skin heals from burns or blisters. Secondary milia tend to be permanent. *sighs*

How To Prevent And Treat Milia Seeds Under Eyes

Prevention is all well and good, but what can you do if you already got white bumps on your lids? Here’s how to treat and remove them:

1. Don’t Pop Them

Never pick, poke, try to remove milia seeds. Popping doesn’t work (milia seeds aren’t poppable!), but don’t try even that. Trying to remove milia seeds in these ways can read to scars, bleeding, and even infections. Plus, when skin is injured, you may develop permanent milia seeds.

What about homemade treatments? I heard some people get rid of them at home with the help of a needle, but I wouldn’t recommend doing that. Milia often appear near the eyes, and, unless you have a super steady hand, popping them yourself could be quite dangerous! Even if you are absolutely confident you can do it, it may not work. Once milia seeds have hardened, removing them is a tough job that’s best left to the professionals.

2. Exfoliate

“Primary milia is the most common, and the same type seen in babies and adults, caused by dead skin cells that build up in the pore-lining because they are unable to shed properly,” says board-certified dermatologist Dendy Engelman.

Exfoliation remove excess dead cells that cause milia seeds, preventing them from forming in the first place. When milia are fresh, exfoliation also helps remove extra layers and get rid of them faster. Avoid scrubs. They’re irritating. Instead, opt for an exfoliating acid (glycolic or salicylic acid are my faves) that dissolve the glue that holds skin cells together, so they can slough off and reveal the brighter and smoother skin underneath.

Best Picks:

  • Paula’s Choice Clear Regular Strength Anti-Redness Exfoliating Solution With 2% Salicylic Acid ($34.00): This exfoliant unclogs pores, treats acne (including blackheads), and soothes redness. It works for milia seeds too. Most suitable for oily, acne-prone skin. Available at DermstorePaula’s ChoiceSelfridges, and SpaceNK.
  • The Ordinary Glycolic Acid 7% Toning Solution ($13.00): A simple, no-frills Glycolic Acid exfoliant that brightens the complexion, fades away dark spots, and treat milia seeds. Available at Beauty BayBootsCult BeautySephoraSpaceNKThe Ordinary, and Ulta.
  • Drunk Elephant T.L.C. Framboos Glycolic Night Serum ($90.00): This exfoliant has both salicylic acid and glycolic acid to unclog pores, brighten skin and fade away milia. Available at Cult BeautySephora and SpaceNK.

3. Use Lightweight Moisturisers

If you’re experiencing milia around the eyes, opt for a lighter cream that moisturises skin without being too oily or leaving a greasy residue behind. I usually don’t recommend using eye creams. They’re facial moisturisers in smaller jars at a higher price tag. But, if you need a richer cream for your face and a lighter one around your eyes, then using a separate eye cream makes sense.

Best Picks:

  • CeraVe Eye Repair Cream ($15.99): This eye cream features niacinamide and ceramide to deeply hydrate the eye area without feeling greasy. Available at Boots and Sephora.
  • Dr Dennis Gross Hyaluronic Marine Dew It All Eye Gel ($58.00): It uses mineral pigments to brighten the undereye area and “hide” dark circles, hyaluronic acid to hydrate, and antioxidants to prevent premature aging. Available at Cult Beauty, Net-A-Porter, Nordstrom, SpaceNK, and Sephora.
  • Drunk Elephant C-Tango Multivitamin Eye Cream ($64.00): This moisturising cream is loaded with every antioxidant you can think of, including 5 different forms of Vitamin C! Available at Boots, Cult Beauty, and SpaceNK.

4. Use Sunscreen Daily  

I know you know it: sunscreen keeps wrinkle (and skin cancer) away. That alone is a good reason to use it every day. But did you know it can prevent milia seeds as well? “Sun damage can be a contributing factor to milia because it makes skin rough and leathery, so it’s more difficult for dead cells to rise to the skin’s surface and shed normally,” says Engelman. “The resulting clogs can trigger milia formation—and they’ll stick around unless steps are taken to unclog the pores.” Don’t forget to reapply every day – even in winter. UV rays can penetrate through clouds and windows and even be reflected on snow!

Best Picks:

  • Ultrasun Ultra Sensitive Very High SPF50+ Extreme Formula (£54.00): It uses the latest generation of chemical UV filters to provide water-resistant, broad spectrum protection even in extreme conditions. Available at BootsSephora, and SpaceNK.
  • La Roche Posay Anthelios Clear Skin Dry Touch Sunscreen Broad Spectrum SPF 60 ($19.99): A lightweight sunscreen for oily skin that protects skin from sun rays, absorbs excess oil, and can withstand heat, humidity and up until 80 minutes in water! Available at Blue MercuryUlta and Walgreens.
  • Paula’s Choice RESIST Youth-Extending Daily Hydrating Fluid SPF 50 ($37.00): This lightweight chemical sunscreen is loaded with every antioxidant you can think of to prevent premature aging and provide broad spectrum protection. Available at Cult BeautyDermstorePaula’s ChoiceSephora, and SpaceNK.

5. Try A Retinol Product

Retinol is the OTC gold standard for anti-aging. In addition to boosting collagen and fighting wrinkles, it also speeds up cellular turnover (the skin’s natural exfoliating process). Translation: retinol can slowly fade away any build-up on skin, such as milia. The catch? Retinol can be drying and irritating when you first start using it. For best results, start with a small concentration once or twice a week and build up frequency gradually.

Best Picks:

  • Paula’s Choice Resist Wrinkle Repair Retinol Serum ($42.00): An anti-aging serum with 0.1% retinol. It also includes antioxidants, like Vitamin E, to prevent premature aging, and soothing ingredients to reduce irritations. Available at Paula’s Choice and Sephora.
  • Skinceuticals Retinol 0.3 Night Cream ($62.00): This cream contains only 0.3% retinol but it packs an anti-aging punch. It comes in a moisturising base, but you need to use a separate moisturiser to counteract the dryness of retinol. Available at Dermstore and Skinceuticals.
  • Peter Thomas Roth Retinol Fusion PM ($65.00): A micro encapsulated 1.5% retinol serum in an oily, moisturising base to fight wrinkles and fade away dark spots. Available at Beauty BayCult Beauty, and Peter Thomas Roth.

When To See A Dermatologist

Most milia disappear on their own. But if it’s been months and you’ve tried everything in the list above to treat them and they’re still there, it’s time to see a dermatologist. “A dermatologist can remove them right there in the office using a needle or a tiny lancing utensil and, sometimes, a comedone extractor,” says Engelman. “This in-office procedure is fast, painless (numbing cream may be applied) and heals quickly for most people.”

If your milia grow into clusters, then you need “a gentle laser resurfacing treatment like a low setting Fraxel treatment, Halo by Sciton, or a series of chemical peels [to] push the reset button on your skin,” says Astarita.

Can You Extract Milia At Home?

If you’re on a budget, you may be tempted to try and extract milia at home yourself. Don’t. Even if you have the proper tools to do the job, doing it yourself may lead to skin damage, like scarring (and that can lead to more milia and a lot of other unpleasant things). Be safe and let a dermatologist do it for you.

The Bottom Line

Exfoliate, wear sunscreen and stick to light lotions: that’s how you prevent and treat milia seeds. But if you already have them, go to a derm. Better to be safe than sorry!