Nope, those little bumps aren't whiteheads. 

By Erin Lukas
Updated Apr 17, 2020 @ 6:30 pm
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Those stubborn white bumps on your face that refuse to go away? While these "milk spots" or "oil seeds" are often mistaken for whiteheads, they're actually a common skin condition called milia.

These tiny pearl-like bumps that form under the epidermis aren't considered acne. In fact, you can get milia at any age — even as a newborn.

Milia is a cosmetic issue that eventually goes away on its own, but there are ways to treat it. Here, we turned two experts to find out how to get rid of milia and whether or not you can't prevent it in the first place.

What Is Milia?

Derived from the Greek word for “seed,” milia forms when a buildup of dead skin cells, keratin, and sebum get trapped beneath the skin surface, causing tiny raised white bumps. They’re typically found under the eyes, but can also appear in other areas of the face like the nose, chin, and apples of the cheeks.

"There is no exact cause for milia, it tends to run in families but anyone can be susceptible to milia regardless of skin type or age," says Dr. Michele Green, a cosmetic dermatologist in New York City.

How Do You Get Rid of Milia?

Unlike the whiteheads or blackheads, milia won’t budge, no matter how hard you squeeze. Using traditional topical acne treatments won't get rid of them either. "Milia are often mistaken for whiteheads but the distinction is they do not respond to acne medication or treatment and must be extracted by a dermatologist," Dr. Green explains. "You should not attempt to squeeze or try to extract them on your own as this can cause trauma to the skin and scarring."

So, what can you do about the milia around your eyes or on your cheeks? Make an appointment with your dermatologist who can safely extract them. "One of the most common treatments is to extract the milia using a small lancet that removes a tiny part of the skin over the milia," says Dr. Green. "Once the pore is open, it will allow your dermatologist to remove the contents of the milia." Electrodessication, an in-office treatment that uses an electrical current to remove skin lesions like skin tags, can also be used to extract milia.

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How to Prevent Milia

Avoid using products that contain mineral oil and petroleum, which can clog pores. Dr. Green suggests adding an exfoliator into your regular skincare routine to prevent the formation of milia.

After cleansing, "select a toner with alpha hydroxy acids like salicylic or glycolic – these ingredients facilitate cell turnover and remove dead skin cells," she says. "Finish by using a lightweight moisturizer, since moisturizing replenishes the skin and hydrates your skin cells." Look for a moisturizer with that's gel-based or lightweight, preferably with hyaluronic acid. "These elements provide your skin with the nourishment it needs without clogging the pores."

We're fans of Mario Badescu's Glycolic Toner, which resurfaces skin cells and contains soothing aloe vera. As for moisturizer, Neutrogena's Hydro Boost is a fast-absorbing gel moisturizer infused with skin-plumping hyaluronic acid.