What Is Milia?

Milia is characterized by tiny white cysts that usually appear on the cheeks, nose, and around the eyes. It is also sometimes called "milk spots" or "baby acne" because it is very common in newborns.

No milia removal treatment is necessary for babies because the white spots generally disappear on their own within a couple of weeks once the glands that facilitate skin exfoliation are fully functioning. However, it doesn't work quite as easily for adults, and most of the time, the stubborn cysts will need a little help disappearing.

Although it is often referred to as "baby acne", milia are not acne at all. These white spots are not a result of inflammation or clogged pores. In fact, they have nothing to do with your pores, but are actually caused by a buildup of keratin under the epidermis, or the top layer of skin.

Keratin is a naturally occurring protein that helps build and rejuvenate skin, nails, and hair. However, when dead skin cells are not sloughed off properly, keratin can become trapped, causing small white cysts to form.

Some people are genetically prone to developing milia; but, most often it is caused by the use of skin care products and cosmetics that contain heavy oils, particularly mineral oil or lanolin.

Milia is often mistaken for whiteheads, so people will unwisely try to pop or squeeze the cysts. Unfortunately, not only will this fail to get rid of the milia, but it can also cause scarring.

How to Treat and Prevent Milia

  1. Exfoliate Regularly: Everyday, your skin sheds old, dead skin cells and replaces them with new ones. But, when this is unable to happen naturally, the dead cells will build up, causing keratin to become trapped below the epidermis and milia spots to form.

    You can help your skin slow away old cells by using a gentle exfoliating product 2-3 times a week. Take caution that the lotion or wash you use is not too harsh, and be extra careful around your eyes. If you have sensitive skin or are concerned about chemical reactions, you can make your own exfoliating scrub using olive oil, brown sugar, and/or oatmeal.

    Some people find applying a hot compress to the face first will soften the skin and make the treatment more effective. Regular exfoliation will help remove the top layer of skin and may cause some of the cysts to fall out on their own. However, deeper-rooted cysts will require more intensive treatment. Overall, exfoliation may help treat some milia, but many people find that it is much more effective as a preventative measure.

  2. Advanced Electrolysis: This is considered to be one the most effective milia removal treatments available. Simply, a fine probe is used to send a current into the milia, which breaks down the fatty tissue (or keratin buildup), so that it can be reabsorbed into the skin. This procedure is virtually painless and requires no cutting or invasive treatments.

  3. Change Skin Care Products: One of the main causes of milia is the use of beauty products which contain unhealthy oils such as mineral oil or lanolin. Thick, oily products will not allow the skin to breath or naturally exfoliate, and will also increase the possibility of dead cells becoming stuck.

    Some people have found that simply making the switch to oil free skin care formulas and exfoliating regularly has helped their milia disappear; however, it is most effective as a preventative treatment. After all, if you stop using the make-up that is causing your milia, then you shouldn't have any problems with the condition recurring.

  4. Chemical Peels and Microdermabrasion: A glycolic acid peel is fairly mild and will help exfoliate the skin while also removing built up dirt and oils. Similarly, microdermabrasion buffs away the top layer of skin, which may encourage some milia cysts to pop out. Unfortunately, most OTC chemical peels or microdermabrasion treatments are ineffective. Professional microdermabrasion or prescription strength peels may be more successful in treating milia, however, several applications may be necessary, which can be both costly and very harsh to the skin.

    If a change in skin care products, combined with regular exfoliation and chemical peels or microdermabrasion isn't enough to clear up your milia, then you may need to visit a dermatologist, aesthetician, or skin care specialist for a more intense treatment.

  5. Milia Extraction: In this procedure, a sterile lancet (lancing tool) or needle is used to pierce or open up the milia. When a little pressure is applied using a comedone extractor or tweezers, the milia can usually be easily removed.

While treated milia will not return, new spots can still form. So, even after treatments, it is important to use preventative measures to ensure that your milia does not make a re-appearance.

Your aesthetician or clinician can work wonders, and when you combine these procedures with a proper, healthy skin care regime, you will be able to banish milia forever.

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