Milk spots are a relatively common skin condition that affects people of all ages. Although many people only experience one or two of these small growths, sufferers often become embarrassed about larger outbreaks. If you or a loved one suffers with milk spots, find out what causes the condition, and learn more about the treatment options available to you.
Appearance and symptoms
Milk spots (known medically as milia) are tiny, white or yellow bumps that can appear anywhere on your body. The odd milk spot on your face or torso is unlikely to cause much of an issue, but some people end up with an outbreak of many facial lesions. Most commonly, you'll find milia on the cheeks, nose or eyelids.
Each milk spot is a small cyst filled with excess keratin. Keratin is an essential protein that your body uses to grow your hair and nails. Milk spots seldom cause any discomfort, but some people complain that the cysts become itchy.
Types of milia
Dermatologists and doctors see different types of milia.
- Primary milia occur in children or adults.
- Neonatal milia commonly occur in young babies. Experts believe that around 50 percent of babies get milk spots.
- Secondary milia can grow when you damage your skin. For example, people with burns sometimes develop these cysts.
- Multiple eruptive milia are more rare. These spots appear as a sudden outbreak over a short period, usually on the face, arms or torso.
Milia en plaque is the rarest form of the condition. People with autoimmune disorders sometimes develop a build-up of thick, red skin, which doctors call a plaque. Occasionally, these people can also get milia, particularly if the plaque is behind the ears, on an eyelid or on the cheeks.
Causes and risk factors
Doctors aren't really sure what causes milk spots. In young babies, doctors believe the spots form when the infant's sweat glands fail to properly develop. People with dry or acidic skin may also see these growths. The lesions can also form if you use skin creams or cosmetics that are oily and clog your pores.
People with darker skin are often at higher risk of the condition because the skin is thicker, and the pores are more likely to clog. Similarly, if you suffer serious sunburn, you may experience an outbreak of milia as your skin tries to heal.
Milk spots will often go away if you leave them alone, but some people turn to a dermatologist for help. Crucially, you cannot squeeze milk spots in the same way you might try to tackle acne pimples. With a milk spot, you don't have a problem with sebum blocking the pore, and the built-up keratin forms a hard capsule that sits under the epidermis. Any attempt to squeeze the milk spot could simply aggravate the area.
In mild cases, gentle exfoliation can help. Your dermatologist may suggest that you place a hot wet cloth on the affected skin for a few minutes, before using an exfoliator to gently rub the top layer of skin. If the milk spots are relatively new, this process can disturb the skin and allow the cyst to fall out, but this method is not generally suitable for the sensitive skin around your eyes.
For more established milia, a dermatologist might use a sterilized needle to prick out the contents of the lesion. However, you shouldn't try to do this yourself, as you could damage the skin and cause scarring. More severe cases of milia may need more aggressive types of treatment, if the lesions are unsightly.
Treatment options include:
- Cryotherapy, which freezes the cyst and allows it to drop off
- Laser treatment
- Chemical peels
Your dermatologist will discuss the merits of each method with you. Some of these treatments can cause side effects, so it's important to understand the risks you face.
Milia or milk spots are a common skin disorder, particularly in newborn babies and infants. Unless the spots cause you distress, your doctor will probably suggest you leave them alone, but you should consult a dermatologist for expert advice, or you can click here for more information.