First of all, what are milia? Well, if left to their own devices, milia are blemishes that have been left untreated…and have turned into small white bumps appearing just under the skin. They can develop for many reasons, including the use of certain personal care product ingredients that clog the pores relentlessly, from environmental stressors like free radicals or the way we handle the stresses in our lives, or simply from genetic factors.
While skin naturally sloughs off dead skin cells every month or so, regenerating with our natural cycles, if the skin is unable to shed those cells, sebum and keratin become trapped beneath the epidermis, and become lodged in sweat glands and hair follicles. This process naturally slows down as we age, but it can also be stopped by any number of causes. The tiny bumps can be difficult to treat, in part because those with these bumps may confuse them all with plain old acne, and acne cleansers won’t necessarily treat the potential underlying issues, since not all milia are created equal.
Start looking for the root cause
We know that some of the chief culprits of facial blemishing in general are heavy and oily cosmetics that include ingredients such as hydrogenated oils, beeswax, lanolin, and bismuth oxychloride (commonly found in the most popular mineral makeups). Cleansers, shampoos and laundry detergents can also be a source of synthetic chemicals that are skin irritants (and much worse). Often, if we can identify which product is the trigger, the milia will resolve itself after a few weeks without using the offending product. A list of synthetic products to avoid can be found on my website.
Types of milia
There are both primary and secondary milia. Primary milia are formed directly from entrapped keratin and are usually found on the face. Secondary milia are also tiny cysts and look similar, but these develop after something clogs the ducts leading to the skin surface, such as after an injury, burn, or blistering of the skin. People of all ages and ethnicities are at risk for milia, and primary milia are so common in newborn babies (nearly half of all infants get these tiny bumps) that it is considered part of normal infant development. The most common locations for primary milia in adults are around the eyes, cheeks, nose and forehead. Secondary milia may appear anywhere on the body, including the backs of hands, and especially on the faces of those with sun damage.
Natural treatment solutions
Unlike acne, milia are caused by embedded dead skin cells within the surface layer of the skin. Since one of the most common places for secondary milia is around the delicate under eye area, it’s important to use effective yet gentle treatments to avoid capillary damage beneath the skin’s surface. Exfoliation is an excellent treatment to remove and dislodge embedded dead skin cells and oil. For best results, use products that contain natural glycolic acid, natural fruit acids (such as apple, papaya, lemon peel, and orange) and lactic acids—all are gentle and natural exfoliants.
A mild daily cleanser with these same active botanicals will help unclog pores, and enable the skin to remove its own impurities. If, after implementing an exfoliation and cleansing regimen, the milia condition persists, then a esthetician can help remove embedded millium by piercing each with a lancet and removing the cyst material, applying a topical retinoid cream, acid peels and/or microdermabrasion. And, although milia are found in the outer skin layers, they are difficult to remove without the proper tools. Do not attempt to remove them at home with a tweezer or needle, which can lead to infection, irritation and permanent scarring.
Like any skin condition, it’s important to know thyself, and your skin, as well as your ingredients and all the possible remedies for what ails you so you can easily treat your own skin conditions. Exfoliates and peels are fabulous remedies for early signs of milia. Even better – a solid, healthful skin care regimen that focuses on balancing and strengthening will stop any oil or bacteria issues before they even begin so the word “milia” won’t even have to be in your skin care vocabulary!
About the author
Suki Kramer is the founder, president and formulator of suki, inc. skin care as well as a skin care expert for assorted media.