Ever wonder what those little white bumps are on your skin? Maybe you mistook one for a whitehead and tried to pick at it — to no avail? This is because they aren’t blemishes, they’re called milia (milium if there’s just one) and they’re tiny, white, firm papules, which is the medical term for these types of small, raised bumps.
Milia are extremely common in babies — researchers say that up to 50 percent of newborns get them — but people are susceptible to a milium cyst at any age. Even though milia are NOT dangerous and will disappear on their own a lot of the time, we know it can be frustrating to play the waiting game for them to go away.
Here is a crash course on milia, and the best ways to treat and avoid them.
What are milia?
Put simply, milia are tiny (less than three millimeter) superficial cysts that form when skin cells (called keratin) become trapped instead of naturally shedding. The keratin gets lodged under a layer of protective skin tissue and forms those little white bumps under the skin.
While milia can be annoying, they usually aren’t itchy or painful. Because they’re covered by a layer of skin, trying to pop them will usually just irritate the skin around them, increasing your risk of skin infection and permanent scarring.
Can you stop milia from forming?
The answer isn’t a straight yes or no, but you can make changes to your lifestyle and routine that may help prevent milia from popping up. Usually, milia are the result of problems on the skin’s surface, but it can be hard to pinpoint their exact cause.
Here are some tips you can try at home:
- Avoid applying heavy, occlusive products on your skin. These can coat the skin and inhibit the natural removal of dead skin cells. That includes everything from thick creams and ointments, to makeup and even lip balm.
- Keep exfoliating, but ditch the harsh physical scrubs. If you’re noticing a lot of little white bumps, alter your beauty routine by making sure your skin care products are light, non-comedogenic, and not filled with coarse granules which can irritate the eye area. Try a gentle, chemical exfoliant that contains salicylic acid like SLMD Skincare Salicylic Acid Cleanser.
- Be sure to always wear SPF. Milia are often associated with damage to the skin: blisters, burns, skin resurfacing procedures, and sun damage. Opt for lightweight and oil-free sunscreens to avoid creating more milia.
How do you treat milia?
Most of the time, milia bumps will disappear over time as your skin starts to shed dead cells. Aside from being patient, there are a couple of things you can do to speed up the process:
- Use gentle, chemical exfoliants. Alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs) and beta hydroxy acids (BHAs) are great options.
- Apply topical retinols. These support the skin cycle (which slows with age) which discourages dead cell buildup. Try SLMD Skincare Retinol Serum, which works overnight and contains nourishing ingredients.
If you just want them gone, consult with your dermatologist — they can perform a simple evacuation by incising the milia, then extracting the tiny but firm pearl under the skin. Light electrocautery, chemical peels, laser surgery, and dermabrasion are also methods of removal.
It’s always best to consult with a specialist before trying to diagnose yourself. Be patient with your skin and these tiny, little bumps in the road!