Milia are tiny cysts that form most commonly on the face, although other areas of the body can be involved, especially the neck and chest. These small, white bumps have the look and feel of tiny pearls. If you try to pop or puncture one of these bumps, which you shouldn’t do, a thick, white material comes out that’s made up of dead skin cells. Needless to say, they can be a source of frustration from a cosmetic standpoint.
Milia form when skin cells that are normally shed during skin cell turnover become trapped. When this happens, the trapped cells are walled off and tiny cysts form. Some people have a number of these small bumps on their skin.
Why do some people have them and others don’t? A number of factors contribute to milia formation. They seem to be linked to skin damage related to injury or repeated sun exposure. People who have certain skin conditions such as seborrheic dermatitis, lichen planus and rosacea are at greater risk for them. They can also appear after a dermatological procedure that irritates or injures the surface of the skin such as dermabrasion or after a burn or a bout of poison ivy where the skin is traumatized by repeated scratching.
Wearing heavy cosmetics also contributes to milia since these products prevent normal skin sloughing and renewal. Topical steroids dermatologists prescribe to treat various dermatological conditions also increases the risk of developing these small bumps.
First, it’s important to stop using heavy cosmetics and skin care products that interfere with the skin’s ability to renew itself. Use products that are labeled non-comedogenic and oil-free. Switch from a liquid foundation to a light, mineral-based make-up.
Sunscreen is a necessity since sun damage contributes to the problem. A good sunscreen provides protection against both UVA and UVB rays and leaves skin smooth and shine-free. Use it every day to protect skin from sun damage that can lead to milia.
The best way to treat milia is to gently exfoliate the skin using an exfoliating scrub. Exfoliation helps to remove dead skin cells and thin the epidermis so that skin sloughing can occur in a more normal manner. This helps to prevent new milia from forming. The key is to use a gentle, non-irritating exfoliator that won’t irritate the skin. Exfoliators that abrade and irritate the skin too much can make the problem worse.
Another treatment is to deep clean using a cleansing device. These systems uses a brush and sonic technology to deep clean and remove impurities and dead skin cells that can make milia worse. It also visibly reduces the appearance of fine lines, wrinkles and enlarged pores. When using a cleansing device, choose a cleanser that contains glycolic acid. This mild, natural acid helps treats milia by loosening up and sloughing off dead skin cells that build-up on the surface of the skin.
In some cases, dermatologists prescribe retinoids in products like Retin-A to treat this skin problem. Unfortunately, some people can’t tolerate them because of redness, flaking and skin irritation.
What if they don’t respond to exofoliation and deep cleansing? A dermatologist can manually extract milia using a special instrument, but this procedure carries with it the risk of infection and scarring. Most people can get good results treating this problem with deep cleansing, gentle exfoliation and products that contain glycolic acid.