If you have noticed a new crop of small white bumps under your skin and thought you were having an acne breakout. Stop – don’t pick! You might actually be having a milia breakout and picking milia is way worse for you than popping your pimples.
What is Milia?
Milia are small, white, hard and painless cysts that form under the skin. They can look like a grain of white sand under the skin. They contain hardened keratin. Keratin is the major protein found in skin, hair and nails. They can occur at any age but are very common in newborn babies.
Milia differ from whiteheads or acne because they do not contain sebum or bacteria. They also don’t have an opening like a whitehead will. Do not try and squeeze or pop milia. This can cause red and inflamed skin and lead to scarring. They will not ‘pop’ like pimples or acne. The most commonly occur over the nose cheeks and around the eyes.
Why they occur remains a mystery but there is a lot you can do to treat adult-onset Milia. In newborn babies, they resolve on their own generally within 6 weeks. They are nearly always harmless in babies and do not require intervention.
How is Milia Formed and Why They Occur
Milia are formed when dead skin cells or corneocytes build up in the pore.
Instead of becoming infected and causing a pimple the pore remains tightly shut and becomes hard. Milia are usually painless and don’t become itchy or infected.
They sometimes occur as the result of fo skin damage from bad sunburn or chemical burns.
They also occur alongside other skin conditions like rosacea. They can also occur when makeup is not removed properly and blocks the pores.
Taking your makeup and sunscreen off at the end before going to bed is so important.
The good news is that most of the time Milia we disappear on its own within 2 – 6 months. They don’t require treatment if they are not bothering you.
Of course, if you have a lot of Milia you may not want to wait that long! There are ways of safely removing and treating Milia.
Milia vs Whiteheads
Milia don’t have an opening at the surface of the skin. This is why they can’t be easily removed by squeezing or popping them. Doing this will only severely irritate your skin and cause a lot of inflammation and damage.
You cannot remove the milia because it is under your skin and not in a pore.
Unlike pimples which have sebum, dead skin bacteria and the ever-delightful pus. Pimples also form in the pores of your skin so there is an opening to the surface.
Pimples are also fluid and Milia are tiny cysts filled with hardened trapped keratin.
Never Try to Squeeze or Pop Milia
How To Treat Milia
Start with over the counter (OTC) exfoliating products. Salicyclic acid, glycolic acid and retinol are good choices to try and remove the top layer of dead skin. This can take anywhere from a few weeks to months before you see an improvement in Milia.
If Milia are in a spot that is difficult to treat, such as your eyelids then the next step will be a skincare therapist or a dermatologist. Milia can be manually extracted.
Manual extractions should only be done by qualified professionals.
Manual extractions are the most effective way of treating milia and the results are immediate.
Your dermatologist or esthetician will make a small opening in the surface of your skin. They will use a sterile blade or needle to do this. This reduces the chance of infection. Then using either a comedone extractor or their fingers they will gently press the plug of keratin out from the skin.
It is not painful and when done well won’t bleed and will leave only leave very mild redness that should clear up in an hour or two.
Treating milia this way will prevent scarring.
Do not try and extract Milia by yourself or for your friends. You can do very serious damage to your skin, especially around your eyes.
Trying to remove milia can cause a very hard to treat a type of scarring called post-inflammatory-hyperpigmentation.
Prevention Is Better Than Cure
The best way to treat milia is to not get it in the first place. Making sure your skin is clear of makeup, sunscreen and environmental pollution before going to bed is important. Also using skincare acids to provide exfoliation to your skin can stop the build-up dead skin cells under the stratum corneum.
Retinol is also the first line of defence against many skincare issues and milia can now be added to the list of things retinol can prevent!
If you are not sure if he bumps are milia or whiteheads don’t be tempted to squeeze them. You shouldn’t squeeze or pop your pimples and you definitely shouldn’t try to pop milia.
As always the best cause of action is to see your dermatologist or doctor for an accurate diagnosis.
Treating milia is much easier than treating acne. There is no point in risking potential permanent scarring from home treating your milia. Getting your milia removed by a licensed professional will be much less costly than trying to improve permanent scarring from trying to remove milia at home.