woman with milia

What Is Milia?

Everything you need to know about milia & milia treatment

What Is milia?

Milia (or milium) are tiny white bumps near the surface of your skin. They are very common on babies (they are sometimes known as milk spots or oil seeds) but anyone can get them at any time of life. You can find them anywhere on the body, but they often cluster around the eyes, nose, cheeks and forehead.


Let’s take a closer look at what causes milia on the face, how to remove milium grains and why we get these little white bumps.

What is milia on the face?

Milia are a little bit of a mystery - not much is actually known about these little milky-white spots. But we do know they are not dangerous and usually go away of their own accord. People often notice them in the face where they may form in clusters, but it is not unusual to find a single one around your eye, on your eyelid, or on the neck and hands. You may particularly notice milium grains on or around dark circles or on darker patches on the cheeks. 
woman treating milia

These tiny cysts are filled with keratin - the protein found in skin, hair and nails - when, instead of being eliminated, these clusters of dead skin roll up to form a ball under the surface of the skin forming these tiny bumps. And they really are tiny, usually no bigger than  1-2 millimetres in diameter. 


Although we do not yet know everything about the cause of these white bumps, there are aggravating factors. Milia is sometimes linked to sun exposure or repeated steroid cream use, but it is also genetic, meaning some people are more prone to them than others. But they can affect all skin types - dry, combination, sensitive or oily - and all ages, from baby skin to mature skin.

These small white pimples are benign and superficial, but if they are troubling you, you may wish to remove them. Discover the precautions to take to help limit their appearance and how to remove them if necessary.

What is the difference between a whitehead and a milium speck?

Grains of milia and whiteheads (or closed comedones) are microcysts. They are caused by an accumulation of material under a thin layer of skin, forming raised colourless pimples. 


However, the make-up of milia and whiteheads differs. A closed comedo is caused by an accumulation of sebum, the oil in the skin, sometimes accompanied by bacteria. It can become infected and turn into a red pimple.

How do milium grains appear?

The cause of milium grains still remains unclear. Their appearance is caused by the obstruction of the hair follicles under the pores of the skin. The blockage can be the result of poor elimination of dead cells, or aggressive external factors stripping the skin. 


Milium grains could also be genetic. But, in any case, milium is likely to be exacerbated by factors that destabilise the skin and disrupt cell renewal. 


Here are some aggravating factors that can make their appearance of more likely:

  • UV exposure
  • Tobacco and alcohol
  • Excessive use of hygiene products
  • Occlusive, aggressive or unsuitable cosmetic products
  • Repeated abrasive hygiene gestures
  • A lesion: wound, burn, surgical or aesthetic intervention
  • Certain skin conditions such as dermatoses.
woman cleansing her face
blonde woman laughing

Can we prevent the appearance of grains of milia?

It is not possible to completely prevent the appearance of milium grains. But a few precautions and a good skincare routine could help limit their appearance. 


Preventive measures can also benefit the overall appearance of the skin and can slow down the appearance of blackheads, boost the radiance of the complexion and help prevent premature skin ageing.

  • Choose non-comedogenic cosmetics, whose formula does not clog the pores of the skin.

  • Opt for gentle cleansing products that respect your skin type.

  • Don't overload the skin with formulas that are too rich or products that cover too much. Unless your skin type requires it, go for all-in-one, non-greasy formulas.

  • Use a foundation that works for your skin type and isn’t too heavy.

  • Adopt a simple but regular skincare routine to promote the elimination of dead cells:  Cleanse your face every evening and gently in the morning. Once a week, exfoliate to boost the removal of dead skin cells.

  • Avoid using abrasive and stripping actions or products. Opt for gentle scrubs and limit their frequency. Avoid peels and lasers until the milium goes away. Dry the skin by dabbing rather than rubbing it.

  • Hydrate and nourish your skin to facilitate cell renewal. Apply a moisturiser to the face in the morning and evening. Choose a nourishing formula for dry skin or something soothing for sensitive skin.

  • Provide specific care for the eye contour. In order to support this fragile area, opt for a suitable treatment that isn’t too rich.

  • Protect yourself from UV rays. Avoid sunbeds, wear a hat in the sun, limit exposure time and always wear sunscreen, even in winter.

  • Lifestyle factors play a part: Get enough sleep, limit stress, practise regular physical activity, avoid alcohol and tobacco as much as possible, as well as excess fat and sugar.

woman with milia on her face

How to remove milium grains

It is theoretically not necessary to remove the grains of milium. They disappear naturally, without intervention, in a few weeks… or a few months. For those who are bothered by milium grains on dark circles, or when there is a cluster of milia on the face, it is possible to contact a dermatologist to eliminate them. 


Depending on the extent of the milia, a skincare expert can recommend professional exfoliating treatments or cleanse the skin: a tiny incision is made using a specific needle, before extracting the grain of milia.

Can you remove milium grains yourself?

No! You can aid their disappearance by the use of gentle scrubs but be careful not to strip the skin by using them too frequently (once or twice a week is usually adequate) or scrubbing too furiously. 


Discover our NIVEA Gentle Exfoliating Scrub, made with moisturising vitamin E, to exfoliate dead skin cells, whilst maintaining you skins natural balance.


It is strongly discouraged to try to extract grains of milia at home, without professional intervention. Picking and squeezing a milium grain is rarely successful and the damaged skin can become infected which may then leave scars. It is better to be patient or to call on a dermatologist to choose a suitable treatment. 

woman laughing
woman exfoliating

Milia treatment

Opt for skin-friendly, gentle cleansers. Explore our range of NIVEA cleansers, for reliable and effective face cleansing - with gentle formulas to care for your skin and keep it hydrated.


Exfoliation is also important but do not scrub too hard with your chosen product and limit its use to once or twice a week. Keeping the skin hydrated will also help to maintain its natural pH balance and give it a better chance to stay in peak health.