Milia are tiny white bumps that form at the base of the hair follicle. Debris and dead skin are collected in the pores, resulting in the clogged bump.
What are milia?
Milia are what occurs when sebum and dead skin cells become trapped in the outer layers of the skin. After a while, they keratinize, meaning that they gather keratin and then harden. We are not angry at keratin as keratin is an essential structural protein of the skin, and keratin looks out for our skin all of the time. It is just that, in this instance, keratin is the culprit of the physical bump.
What do milia look like?
Milia are the type of pearl you don’t necessarily want near your face. They are usually small, round little bumps and they are completely benign. They look a little bit like a regular whitehead but further into the skin and usually are not accompanied by the ring of redness that a whitehead would be. You are likely to get them in multiples, rather than one milium (yes, that is the word for the singular form).
Different types of milia?
Milia, like most things in life, come in many forms. You have neonatal milia, which affects nearly half of newborn babies and is most commonly found on the nose. Neonatal milia usually disappear within a few weeks of your baby being born, so there is no need to worry.
Primary milia affect both children and adults and are most likely to affect the eye region, cheeks, and forehead. This type of milia can also heal itself and spontaneously disappear, but some are more stubborn than others and may need a bit of a push (or an excision, to be precise, but more on that later).
Juvenile milia are milia that are caused by hereditary disorders such as Gardner syndrome or nevoid basal cell carcinoma syndrome.
If you have a plaque (a type of skin lesion) that is covered in multiple milia, this is called milia en plaque. You are most likely to find this type of milia behind the ears, around the cheek and jaw area or on the eyelid.
Multiple eruptive milia are the name for a rare skin condition in which the sufferer gets repetitive bouts of sometimes itchy patches of milia for a period of time. It can disappear completely on its own, and it is known to occur in those who have just finished cancer treatment.
If you have recently had a skin-related injury, such as a burn or wound, you may develop traumatic milia, which, as you can guess from the name, can happen at the site of skin trauma.
Interestingly, you can also get milia after using topical medication, such as steroid creams!
Can milia be prevented?
Seeing as milia forms for practically no reason, you may feel a little bit disheartened. Some believe it has to do with makeup and eye creams, or that milia are down to dry skin, but I do not believe this to be true – I have oily skin and still get milia!
On the inside:
Some nutritionists believe there to be a link between vitamin A and omega deficiency and the development of milia. Although there isn’t a lot of scientific basis behind it, there is no harm in giving vitamin A and omega supplements a go and seeing if it prevents milia from forming for you. Vitamin A and omegas are fabulous for skin health as they help with the skin’s cell turnover and hydration. I’d personally be a fan of Advanced Nutrition Programme Skin Omegas+ and Skin Vit A+.
On the outside:
Keeping the skin well-exfoliated may stop the build-up of dead skin cells that lead to the formation of milia. Products that include acids are the best for exfoliation, ie. lactic acid, glycolic acid, salicylic acid.
If you get a lot of milia, retinol or retinoids may be a good shout. These vitamin-A-derived ingredients speed up the rate of cell renewal so that dead skin cells are being shed a little bit faster, thus leaving none to become trapped and collect keratin. I’d be inclined to tell people to steer clear of retinols or retinoids unless deemed absolutely necessary, as it can be a relatively harsh treatment.
It is a very common belief that using a lot of products that are too heavy for your particular skin is what causes milia, as it clogs the pore. Seeing as milia does not stem from the pore, I do not think this is necessarily gospel.
How do I get rid of milia?
When it comes to milia, prevention cannot be guaranteed. It is one of those things in the skindustry that isn’t fully understood! However, the one thing that will definitely get rid of your milia is having them professionally lanced.