Why you should never pop those small, hard bumps on your face

Why you should never pop those small, hard bumps on your face

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How to Safely Get Rid of MiliaMykola Sosyukin / EyeEm – Getty Images

You look in the mirror and there they are: a bunch of small, hard white spots on your face, probably with a faint blue tint. They don’t look or feel like a typical zit or whitehead, so what could they be? Most likely they are something called thousandsor small pockets of dead skin.

“Milia are made of keratin,” he says Farah Mustafa, Ph.D, dermatologist and director of laser and cosmetic surgery at Tufts Medical Center in Boston. They usually develop on the cheeks, eyelids and nose. As your skin naturally exfoliates old cells so that new ones can grow, the cells can get trapped, harden and become cystic – these are milia. “Think of them as pimples with nowhere to go,” he says Joshua Zeichner, Ph.Ddermatologist and director of the division of cosmetic and clinical research in dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York.

These benign cysts—sometimes called “milk spots”—are very common in infants; about 50% of babies have them at birth, according to Cleveland Clinic. But they can happen to anyone at any age.

What causes milia in adults?

According to Dermatology Consultant, there are different types of milia, including neonatal milia, the type that appears on babies’ skin. The most common type in adults is primary milia; there are two other types that are less common, one that appears in clusters on your skin and the other that is caused by trauma to the skin.

Apart from the process of trapping skin cells during the natural exfoliation process, milia can also appear due to other factors. “They can be due to sun damage or heavy skin care products,” says Dr. Zeichner. Oil-based makeup or cleaning agents can be the culprit if they clog your pores.

Skin damage from injury or rash, or prolonged use of corticosteroids, could also be a possible cause. In addition, certain medical conditions can cause milia to form. “Milia can be a secondary symptom of a blistering skin condition, such as a burn,” explains Dr. Mustafa. “They can also happen due to autoimmune desease or genetic disease. You can also get milia if you don’t cleanse your skin regularly, and you may be more likely to develop them if you have rosacea or dandruff.

The first thing you may wonder is whether you should see a doctor if you have milia. Most often there is no need. “Milia are completely harmless and a purely cosmetic problem,” says Dr. Zeichner.

Often times they will just go away on their own. But if yours are sticking around and bugging you, don’t try any of the milia removers you see online—they’re completely ineffective, experts say.

How to get rid of and prevent milia:

Do not try to remove them yourself.

It’s never a good idea to try popping milia as a pimple (you shouldn’t pop your pimples either!). “Never poke or hit milia,” advises Dr. Mustafa. “And avoid scrubbing milia with any kind of gritty scrub.”

Focus on gentle cleansing.

Here is the best daily remedy to try: “Gentle skin care”, says Dr. Mustafa. Wash your face the right wayfollowing the advice of American Academy of Dermatology: Using gentle cleanser and fingertips, wash with lukewarm water avoiding scrubbing, rinse with lukewarm water and dry with a soft towel. Also, make sure your skin has a chance to breathe and be makeup free every now and then.

Try a topical retinoid cream.

If you are prone to milia, your dermatologist may recommend that you try a topical retinoid if you have a relapse. “This can help by removing cells in the outer layer of skin, encouraging the eventual release of milia from your skin.” says Dr. Illustrator.

Always wear sunscreen.

This is a golden rule even if you don’t have milia, but sunburns and damage can be common causes. Be sure to apply correctly at at least SPF 30 sunscreen on your skin 30 minutes before going outside. Birnur K. Aral, Ph.D.executive director of the Good Housekeeping Institute’s Beauty, Health and Sustainability Lab, suggests applying a nickel-sized dollop to your face. For sprays, she suggests spritzing the sunscreen all over the skin, then rubbing it in.

See a dermatologist for professional removal.

To actually remove thousands, you need to extract them from your skin. “This means that the dermatologist physically creates an opening with a needle or scalpel blade,” says Dr. Zeichner. Never do this yourself. Trying to remove milia the wrong way can lead to infection or scarring. And she adds, “Milia around the eyes are especially difficult to deal with because of their proximity to your eyeball.”

The actual process of milia removal is called uncoating. The dermatologist uses a needle to remove the cap that traps the keratin in your skin and scrape out the keratin itself. However, the procedure is not covered by insurance and can be a bit expensive, ranging from $200 to $500 on average.

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