Milia in adults

Written by denise brandenberg
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Milia in adults
Many adults will get milia on their faces and necks. (face image by Melanie von Snarly from

By the time most people reach adulthood, they think they've got their skin all figured out. They understand their problem areas, developed regular skin care regimens and started ageing prevention processes. However, one day a white bump suddenly appears, and it doesn't respond to normal acne treatments. It may be milia, which is actually quite common in adults.

Characteristics and Appearance

Milia are tiny white bumps or cysts that occur on the skin, according to Medline Plus, a service from the U.S. National Library of Medicine. They are found on the face, as well as on mucous membranes such as lip borders, eyelids and inside the cheeks. They are not pimples or acne---they are actually tiny cysts that appear as white beads under the skin.


There are two main types of milia-primary and secondary. Primary milia are very small and have fluid centres. They are typically found only on the face on areas that have vellus hair follicles. Secondary milia look similar to primary milia, but skin issues, such as blistering or burning, cause them.


According to DermaDoctor, trapped skin cells that cannot exfoliate naturally are the main cause of primary milia. Some people are genetically predisposed to them, while others get them after years of prolonged sun damage. Many people get them because they use heavy skin care products that prevent the natural sloughing of dead skin cells and block the hair follicles. Milia may also be a symptom of certain skin diseases, such as Porphyria Cuteanea Tarda. Secondary milia may result from poison ivy, long-term use of steroid crèmes or after dermabrasion, according to Skin Sight.


The best way to prevent milia is to avoid prolonged time out in the sun, as well as maintaining a regular cleansing routine. Some people can prevent them by regularly exfoliating their faces with facial scrubs.


Milia are not harmful, but most people want to remove them for cosmetic reasons. Some milia will naturally go away on their own, while others can be exfoliated with an abrasive cream. Many people try to "pop" them as if they were removing a pimple, but most milia have hard, seed-like centres. Removing them at home may cause scarring. If the milium is located on your eyelid or lip, an aesthetician or doctor can remove it by simply numbing the skin and making a small cut underneath it.

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