Here's what those little white spots (that aren't pimples) are, and how to get rid of them.

They kinda look like pimples, but they’re not.

Those little white dots that often occur on the face and around the eyes are in fact called milia. Here’s why they occur, how you can get rid of them, and how you can stop them from coming back.

What causes milia?

“There are two kinds of milia, primary and secondary,”said Darlene O’Gara , Australian Skin Clinics’ National Training Manager.

Primary milia occur when dead skin cells build up in the pores, eventually becoming tiny cysts. Secondary milia is caused from infection and skin damage such as the blistering caused by sunburn.

“Milia is a buildup of keratin, a protein in the outermost skin layer which forms your hair, nails and skin,” said O’Gara.

“They commonly appear in conjunction with other skin conditions, such as rosacea, or when skincare and makeup products clog the pores.”

Milia can occur on anyone, regardless of gender, age or skin type.

Where does milia appear?

While milia can be found anywhere on the body, it is most commonly found on the face.

“Milia is most common on the nose, cheeks and around the eyes where the skin is softer and more susceptible to damage, which is why it’s so important not to try and pop them yourself,” said O’Gara.


How to treat milia.

Milia don’t have an opening onto the skin, which is why they can’t be removed by a simple squeeze or pop.


“The main reason you shouldn’t try to squeeze milia is the risk of scarring,” O’Gara. “Squeezing creates trauma and inflammation, and this leads to indents and delayed red marks.”

If you’re lucky, they can sometimes clear up by themselves without treatment, but milia in adults can be stubborn to clear, lasting a few weeks or even months.

“Always get a professional to extract milia as they will be able to remove the cyst without damaging the layers of skin around it.”

Milia removal with a skincare professional usually requires a small incision, especially when the cysts are deep below the skin’s surface.

“Typically, it’s a quick and painless in-clinic procedure. A dermal professional should be able to remove milia using sterilised equipment such as a micro-lance needle and comedone extractor,” said O’Gara.

This type of extraction is usually performed alongside a microdermabrasion treatment incorporating a peel and a deep exfoliation to help bring impurities to the surface.

This is what milia typically looks like. Image: Getty.

How to prevent milia.

There are a few simple things you can introduce to your everyday skincare routine to prevent milia.

“Using regular exfoliating ingredients like alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs) or beta hydroxy acids (BHAs), such as salicylic acid or glycolic acid, as well as creams including retinol will help prevent milia and in some cases will clear them completely,” said O’Gara.

“If you’re after a deeper exfoliation, a microdermabrasion is a great option, however ensure you do your research in terms of what is included in your treatment.

“Ensure the microdermabrasion includes extractions as part of the treatment and not just the exfoliation, especially if you’re wanting to specifically target concerns such as milia," Ms O’Gara.

Have you ever had milia? How did you treat it? Tell us in the comments.