Milia vs. Whitehead: What are their differences?

The little white bumps in different areas of your body, especially the face, may not be acne but a skin condition called milia.

image of a girl with acne applying concealer make up

Key takeaways

  • Whiteheads are a common type of acne that occurs when bacteria, dead skin cells, or a type of oil produced by the skin's sebaceous gland clogs the pores of the skin. Milia, on the other hand, is not a type of acne but a skin condition caused by old skin cells trapped under the skin.
  • Whiteheads and milia differ, particularly in their causes and symptoms. Also, while milia is more common in newborns, whiteheads tend to occur more in teenagers and adults due to hormonal changes.
  • Milia affects people of all ages, including newborns, is usually harmless, and often does not require treatment as it usually clears up. However, some home remedies can help clear milia, such as washing your face thoroughly twice daily.

It is common for some skin conditions to be mistaken for others because they have remarkable similarities, and two skin conditions that fall into this category are milia and whiteheads.

Without the assistance of a dermatologist, differentiating between the two conditions may not be easy because both conditions cause little whitish bumps to appear on the skin.

While it is essential to specify that milia is not a type of acne and its causes differ from those of whiteheads, it is also necessary to know what distinguishes both conditions from one another.

What is milia?

Milia are little white bumps that appear most commonly on the face and in other areas of the body like the chest region, genital region, arms, and legs. One of those white bumps is called a milium.

It is common for your skin to shed every once in a while. But in some people, as it sheds, old skin cells get trapped under the new skin, causing milia.

Milia is common in newborns, with about 40–50% of them experiencing it. Neonates experience this condition due to their delicate skin, which is prone to shedding. However, adults can also develop milia due to other factors such as the overuse of steroids, exposure to sunlight, and skin damage from rashes.

What is whitehead?

Whiteheads—also called closed comedones—are a type of non-inflammatory acne with a white or yellowish head. They occur due to clogging of skin pores by oil (sebum) produced by sebaceous glands in the skin, dead skin cells, or bacteria.

Whiteheads can form on your face and other parts of the body, like the chest, upper arm, and back. But you can treat them using over-the-counter treatments like benzoyl peroxide, salicylic acid, and AHAs (glycolic acid and lactic acid).

This skin condition is common in teenagers and adults undergoing hormonal changes.

The difference between milia and whiteheads

Milia and whiteheads may seem alike due to their appearance, but they are different from each other and do not have the same cause.

One of the primary distinctions is that whitehead is a type of acne caused by oil (sebum) and bacteria clogging the skin pores, whereas milia occurs when the old skin cells that should shed get stuck under your skin. 

Milia is a common skin condition in babies, including adults, and is typically not a huge concern because it goes away within a few weeks or months after first appearing, in contrast to whiteheads, which require adequate care with over-the-counter medications.

Also, milia is typically painless and doesn’t cause itching or discomfort, while whiteheads can be painful and cause uncomfortable sensations.

Milia and whiteheads differ from one another in several ways, as shown in the table below.

A table showing the difference between milia and whiteheads




  • It forms little whitish bumps in different areas of the body, especially the face.
  • Non-inflammatory acne that forms a white or yellowish head on the face and some areas of the body.


  • Old skin cells that don’t shed off and get stuck under the skin.
  • Skin damage from rash, injury, or sun
  • Using steroids for a long time
  • Genetic or autoimmune conditions.
  • Clogging of the pores by oil, dead skin cells, or bacteria
  • Excess sebum production.


  • It is common in newborns and people of all ages.
  • It occurs more in teenagers and adults undergoing hormonal changes.


  • It does not cause itching, pain, or any discomfort.
  • It may be painful or tender to touch.

Can skincare products help remove milia?

Yes, skincare products can help get rid of milia. In most cases, if your baby has congenital milia—a primary milia that occurs in newborns—it resolves within a few weeks or months of birth. But other forms of milia may not resolve on their own, and you may need some skincare products or procedures to get rid of them.

Some skincare products that can help remove milia

To eliminate milia from the skin, incorporating certain skincare products into your routine can simplify the process. Skincare products that may help eliminate milia include:

  • Skin exfoliators like glycolic acid and salicylic acid
  • Retinol creams 
  • Chemical peels

Additionally, your dermatologist may use some beauty procedures to remove milia from your skin. Some of these procedures include:

  • Laser surgery
  • Extreme heat (Electrocautery)
  • Extreme cold (Cryotherapy)
  • Topical or oral medications 
  • Dermabrasion(a surgical procedure that uses a rotating device to exfoliate the outer layer of the skin).

How to get rid of milia that’s around the eyes using home remedies

The eyes are very delicate, and to remove milia around them, you do not need to use a harsh approach. Simple home remedies can help you get rid of milia around your eyes.

Some home recommendations that may help include:

  • Washing your face twice
  • Using exfoliators and facial peels
  • Always use sunscreen with SPF 50 before you go out during the daytime. Also, reapply every 2 hours.

How long does it take for milia to go away?

Usually, milia will go away on its own after a few weeks or months, especially the congenital milia seen in babies. But other forms of milia may take a longer time to go away. 

If your milia or that of your baby takes a longer time to resolve, it is advisable to consult a dermatologist.

When to see a dermatologist

If this skin condition persists after a few weeks or months and after home remedies, you should consider consulting a dermatologist for proper assessment and treatment.


It is discomforting to realize your skin is not looking its best, even if what you have is a minor skin issue. Both milia and whiteheads can be concerning for people who have them; however, it is important that you don’t mistake one for the other. This is where your dermatologist comes in—to help you figure out the exact skin issue you have and how to treat it. 

Even though milia is not a skin condition of concern, the blemishes it leaves might make you feel uneasy and insecure. However, by using the suggested treatments, you can regain your confidence.


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  2. National Library of Medicine. (2019). ​​Acne: Overview
  3. Patricio p. Gallardo Avila, et al. (2023) Milia.
  4. American Skin Association. (n.d.). Acne
  5. Amita H. Sutaria, et al. (2023). Acne Vulgaris