Milk spots: What are milk spots and how do you treat and prevent them?

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  • Milk spots, also know as milia, are nothing to worry about. In fact, around half of all newborns will develop them.

    Milk spots are one of the most common skin conditions seen in newborns. 

    Although they’re essentially harmless, milk spots can be concerning for new parents as they appear in the first few weeks of a baby’s life. A combination of their colour and texture, or just the presence of them alone, often recalls warnings about baby rashes and the associated childhood illnesses in their minds.

    To understand a little more about these spots, where they come from, how to get rid of them and what you need to know about baby’s skincare, we spoke to pharmacist Anshu Bhimbat from Lloyds Pharmacy.

    What are milk spots?

    Milk spots are white spots on the skin and they generally appear on the face – around the eyes, nose and mouth.

    “Although they’re called milk spots,” Anshu explains, “It’s a common misconception that they’re linked to the child’s milk. They’re actually sacs of a protein called keratin which build up. The reason they’re called milk spots is just because they look like little tiny milk sacs but there’s no real link to the milk.”

    As worrying as they might look, it’s important not to change your feeding routine. “We don’t want people to stop breastfeeding or start worrying about the milk that they’re giving to their child,” she says.

    baby milk spots

    Credit: Getty

    Why do babies get milk spots?

    Babies can get milk spots for all kinds of reasons. “The child’s skin might not have developed yet, therefore you get this build up. It might be because of hormones – either the child’s or the mother’s that have passed onto the child – but also potentially because of blocked pores on the skin. That’s just linked to the fact that the child’s skin hasn’t fully developed yet,” Anshu tells GoodtoKnow.

    “A lot of children get them when they’re born and it can be very, very worrying – but it’s actually very common. It can also look different on different babies, if you think about skin complexion.”

    But it’s not only babies that can suffer with this keratin build up, adults often have it as well.

    Why do adults get milk spots?

    It’s all to do with how you’ve treated your skin over the years, pharmacist Anshu says. “Sometimes it can be linked to sun exposure or repeated steroid cream use, and sometimes it’s just a genetic thing and more people are prone to have it than others.

    Woman checking for milk spots in the bathroom mirror

    Credit: Getty

    “A lot of people get it on their arms and part of that is just dead skin so a good exfoliator will help. But again, you don’t want to be rubbing the skin to the extent where it may get infected.”

    Are milk spots something to worry about?

    Milk spots are a perfectly natural skin condition that tends to heal on its own, Anshu assures. However, “sometimes they can get infected and that’s when treatment may be required, so it’s just about keeping the skin clean, using the correct baby bathing products on your child’s skin. Sometimes, water is enough. You don’t want to be rubbing the skin to irritate it.”

    But she warns, “Obviously if your child has other symptoms, so a fever or rashes on other parts of their body, if they’re systemically unwell, then you’ll need to go to A&E or call 111. You have to look at all the symptoms as a whole but generally [milk spots are] okay.”

    Much like hay fever in babies, this skin condition is easy to treat.

    How do you treat milk spots?

    In babies, you can use gentle and age-appropriate products to clear away the spots, or better yet, just allow them to clear up on their own as they often do within a couple of weeks.

    Mother bathing smiling new born baby in bathtub

    Credit: Getty

    For adults, there are a variety of treatments available.

    Milk spots can also be lasered off in adults as well, using light and sound energies to repair the skin. The laser breaks down the keratin cysts, resurfaces the skin and improves the stability of the sebaceous glands – which are also responsible for acne.

    Anshu says the condition is not often treated in adults, though, as either people don’t tend to notice it or don’t have an active desire to get rid of them.

    But as tempting as it might be, don’t try and pop milk spots – ever – as it will only make them worse.

    What is the difference between baby milk spots and baby acne?

    Sometimes milk spots are called ‘baby acne’ but this condition and milk spots are two different things, Anshu says. “Acne have a head to it where milia are just sacs on the skin, tiny raised sacs.”

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    The affected area around baby acne, which can appear on a baby’s face, upper back or neck, also tends to get red and irritated. They can look worse if the baby is crying but much the same as milk spots, baby acne is harmless normally and resolves itself within a couple of weeks.

    If you’re ever in doubt about your baby’s skincare, however, visit your local pharmacist or call 111. Both will be able to offer more information.