Representation. A woman touching her face in front of a mirror.
Milia are small, white bumps that usually appear on the nose, cheeks, and chin. They manifest when skin flakes or keratin, a protein found in the outermost skin layer, get trapped under the skin’s surface.
Initially prevalent among newborns, milia can affect individuals of all ages, from children to adults.
While they usually disappear on their own in babies, they often necessitate extraction or removal procedures in adults.
Explaining the difference between milia and whiteheads, South Florida-based board-certified dermatologist Jeffrey Fromowitz told Allure, “Milia is where the skin grows completely over a pore, and the skin debris is trapped beneath the surface. So while it looks like a whitehead, it is difficult to remove and often requires a tool to open the skin’s surface and pop out the hard white core.”
According to the magazine, board-certified dermatologist Shari Marchbein said it is unclear what exactly causes milia to form on the skin but noted that they can occur in those with skin conditions like rosacea and dandruff, buildup from skincare and makeup, and skin trauma.
Here are some tips that may help you deal with milia and prevent more from forming.
- Avoid picking or trying to remove them. Refrain from attempting to extract milia, particularly on your face or your child’s face, as this can cause bleeding, scarring, or potential infection, according to Healthline. Seek advice from a pediatrician if your child’s bumps seem concerning.
- Cleanse properly. Wash your face daily using a gentle, paraben-free soap that doesn’t strip your skin of its essential oils. Pat your skin dry post-wash to avoid chafing.
- Steam to open pores. Consider steaming your face after cleansing to further eliminate irritants trapped in the skin. Sit in a steam-filled room for 5 to 8 minutes to open pores before rinsing your face with lukewarm water, per Heathline.
- Gently exfoliate. Opt for gentle exfoliants like salicylic acid, glycolic acid, and citric acid to minimize skin irritants causing milia. If you’re new to exfoliating cleansers, use them only once a week. Avoid excessive exfoliation to prevent skin irritation.
- Try facial peels and retinoid creams: Facial peels containing exfoliating ingredients may help with milia, but exercise caution as they can also worsen the bumps if your skin is sensitive to the treatment. Topical retinoid creams, which contain vitamin A, can also aid in managing milia, a study found. Dr. Fromowitz explained that “topicals help minimize their occurrence, and when you have them, it preps them for removal.” Apply the cream once a day on clean, dry skin, according to Healthline.
- Change your skincare routine: Dr. Marchbein advised incorporating your skincare routine with noncomedogenic products and a retinoid-containing cream or moisturizer if you are prone to milia. Another dermatologist, Michele Farber, pointed to over-the-counter options like Differin Gel or SkinBetter AlphaRet Overnight Cream, but there are also prescription treatments like tretinoin cream.
- Use sunscreen: Regularly apply sunscreen, especially those with SPF 30 or higher, to shield your skin from harmful UV rays. Choose a sunscreen specifically designed for facial use and containing mineral oil for skin-friendly protection. Dr. Marchbein noted that milia is more likely to appear in those with chronic sun damage.
While most milia disappear naturally in babies, recurring or persistent milia in adults might require professional intervention.
Dr. Sejal Shah told Allure that dermatologists can perform extraction procedures using a sterile needle or scalpel or a laser treatment using an electrically heated needle to get rid of milia.