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When it comes to skin care concerns, unfortunately for all of us, there are many. And we mean a lot! As we go through life, bumps and rashes can come and go—sometimes seemingly without reason. One such bump could be milia, and although it might look like your typical whitehead, it’s actually not acne at all. So, what are milia? If you’ve ever noticed tiny white bumps on your complexion, keep reading because we’re breaking down the science to set the record straight on milia. That includes what causes milia, whether or not you can get rid of milia, and how to adjust your skin care routine if you are prone to milia. Here’s the scoop.
First things first, what exactly is milia? You may have experienced it without ever hearing of it! Although these bumps are completely harmless, they can also be extremely frustrating. According to the Mayo Clinic, milia are tiny white bumps that appear on the skin, most commonly in babies, but they can occur at any age. Milia are often called milk spots, and according to the Cleveland Clinic, almost half of all newborns in the U.S. experience milia.
They look like pearly white bumps just underneath the surface of the skin, and in adults, they most often appear around the eye area, according to the Primary Care Dermatology Society. Besides under the eyes and on eyelids, milia may appear on the chin, forehead, and cheeks.
We touched on this before, but no, milia aren’t whiteheads. All acne, including whiteheads, occurs when hair follicles become clogged with oil, bacteria, and dead skin cells, according to the Mayo Clinic. Specifically, whiteheads are closed plugged pores (whereas blackheads are open plugged pores, and it is this openness that causes them to become black or darken in color). Milia, on the other hand, are caused by something else entirely. More on that next!
According to the Mayo Clinic, milia occur when tiny skin flakes become trapped in pockets just underneath the surface of the skin. The Cleveland Clinic explains that milia are actually small cysts in the skin.
Unlike whiteheads, which are usually easy to treat with over-the-counter acne products, (per the American Academy of Dermatology), milia typically go away on their own. According to the Cleveland Clinic, because milia is not harmful, it’s often not treated and left to clear up without intervention, especially in infants.
For adults looking to get rid of milia, the Cleveland Clinic notes that there are multiple options for milia removal with the help of a board-certified doctor. These include prescription creams, using a needle to extract the milia, and cryotherapy.
Besides booking an appointment with a dermatologist or doing nothing at all, there are steps you can take to keep your skin looking its best. If you are prone to milia but aren’t ready for professional treatment, there are a few things you can do to keep these tiny bumps at bay. Per the Mayo Clinic, if you experience milia, don’t pinch or scrub the bumps when they arise. Instead, use a mild cleanser with warm (not hot!) water twice daily, and also avoid using facial oils. Once or twice a week, use a gentle facial exfoliant to help slough away dead skin cells from skin’s surface. Those with milia should also take extra care to avoid too much time in the sun—and never go outside without SPF! Since milia is most common on the face, wear a hat and take other sun-protective measures, such as seeking shade and avoiding time outdoors between the hours of 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., as often as you can. Lastly, much like pimples, you shouldn’t try to pop or squeeze milia, as this can cause the skin to scar or even lead to an infection.
Like we said, having milia isn’t harmful, so the answer to this question depends on you. Ultimately, deciding to see a dermatologist will depend on how much your milia is bothering you or affecting your appearance. If you’re interested in milia removal, make sure to visit a board-certified dermatologist.
Next: Can You Get Rid of Cellulite?