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Milia on Face: What is It and Can You Get Rid of It?
Have you ever noticed white bumps forming across your face that you can’t quite pop? They don’t hurt and they don’t cause irritation, but you have no idea how or why they’re there. These little dome-shaped bumps are called milia.
Often, they’re mistaken for whiteheads, which is why you might have tried to pop them. However, unlike acne, milia does not have oil or pus inside. Instead, they’re formed when the skin is unable to shed the buildup of keratin, causing it to be trapped on the skin’s surface. The entrapped keratin then looks like white bumps on the surface of the skin.
Milia can also be referred to as “milk spots.” They can often be found on the cheeks, forehead, or around the eyes.
Why am I suddenly getting milia?
50% of milia occurs in newborn babies and this kind often goes away on its own. However, if you find yourself having milia in your teen or adult years, you will most likely have to treat it as any other skin problem. Milia has different causes and knowing yours can help you treat it correctly.
Kinds of Milia
When there’s entrapped keratin or dead skin cells on your face, it’s often called primary milia. As we touched on above, these tiny white bumps crop up when the skin is unable to self-exfoliate, which results in trapped skin cells on the pore lining. Primary milia occurs spontaneously. Unlike acne, primary milia is more of a cosmetic issue and can go away without scarring or permanent skin damage.
Traumatic Milia or Secondary Milia
These milia usually occur when someone undergoes a form of skin trauma, such as an injury, irritation, rash, or burn, as the ducts leading to the surface of the skin may become clogged. They can also be caused by laser treatments gone wrong or long-term use of steroid creams. Unlike primary milia that is much easier to treat, secondary milia may be harder and, in some cases, permanent.
This happens in babies and young children — tiny bumps appear on the baby’s skin in clumps, usually around the forehead, cheeks, and nasal crease, and generally on the surface of the skin. Found in 50% of all infants, neonatal milia or juvenile milia usually goes away after a few weeks and is not a permanent skin condition, and is more so a result of developing oil glands in infants. This is not to be confused with baby acne.
Milia en Plaque
Unlike the other skin conditions, milia en plaque are hard cysts that contain plaque inside. Multiple eruptive milia may appear not only on the face, but also on the upper arms and upper trunk. These may be itchy or completely asymptomatic.
These happen after excessive exposure to sunlight and usually look like golden-colored bumps. The sun damage often makes it more difficult for dead cells trapped beneath the surface to shed the normal way.
Can you remove milia yourself?
The first thing to remember when treating milia is that it is different from acne, both in children and adults. Don’t try to pop it! At best you’ll irritate your skin, but at worst, you’ll get permanent scarring. Milia will usually affect children and babies and tends to go away on its own after several weeks.
In adults, treating primary milia can range from easy to challenging. These tiny white bumps can go away on their own if you’ve already been following a simple skin care routine — moisturizing, exfoliating, and using sunscreen can help prevent milia from staying too long on the skin. If left untreated, they can stay for weeks to even a few months depending on the cause.
How do I get rid of milia on my face?
Preventing milia can be done by observing facial hygiene. However, barring trauma that causes secondary milia, there’s not much we can do when it pops out of nowhere. In that case, here are the best ways to remove milia without damaging your skin.
Exfoliate the dead skin cells
Over-the-counter exfoliants are great if you only have a few bumps here and there that you want to get rid of. Try to spot treat with salicylic acid or glycolic acid and within a few weeks, the bumps might clear away. Chemical peels have a similar effect, but these are much stronger and should not be done as regularly as exfoliating.
Consider topical retinoids
If the primary milia doesn’t go away on its own after a few weeks of cleansing, exfoliating, and moisturizing, then it might be time to consider other products. Consult a dermatologist on whether you’re a viable candidate for retinoid products (especially if you have sensitive skin!).
Retinoids are great at increasing skin cell turnover so you can get rid of dead cells sitting on the skin’s surface much faster. Retinoid products not only help remove dead skin cells, but they also keep the skin looking young by reducing the appearance of fine lines, dark spots, and wrinkles. These can come in thick creams or exfoliating toners.
Seek professional milia removal
If none of the above treatment options work for you, not to worry. Very Well Heath says that the best way to remove milia is still through a manual extraction done by a professional. Ask your dermatologist to “de-roof” the tiny cyst, usually with a sterile needle, lancet, or comedone remover. Make sure to follow proper care as your skin heals.
Since milia is more of an aesthetic issue than a serious skin condition, it’s not as debilitating as acne. However, should you wish to remove them ASAP, we hope this guide was helpful!
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Joey is an AB Psychology graduate of the University of St. La Salle – Bacolod. Her life’s passions include writing, film, and spending hours on end binge-watching fashion vloggers on Youtube.