What Are the Causes of Milia in Adults?

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What Are the Causes of Milia in Adults?
Milia are small, white cysts that are typically found on the faces of adults. (Pixland/Pixland/Getty Images)

Milia are small, white bumps that form on the skin, especially around the eyes, cheeks, nose and mouth. These tiny white cysts are typically not painful, but can be unattractive, especially if they become red or irritated. According to the National Institute of Health, the prevention of milia is difficult. However, knowing the various factors that are associated with milia formation can help prevent their formation.

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Dead Skin Cells

A build-up of dead skin cells is one cause of milia. This build-up most often occurs when the face is not washed on a regular basis. Every day, the skin sheds thousands of dead skin cells. If these dead cells are not washed off the skin, they become trapped in pores and cavities around the mouth or at the surface of the skin, thus clogging pores and creating milia cysts.

Cosmetics and Moisturizers

Oily moisturisers and oil-based cosmetics can also contribute to milia formation, as they can clog pores. This is especially true with oily moisturisers that may be appropriate for the majority of the face, but not for the areas around the eyes, which is a place where milia are likely to form. Make-up and other cosmetic products can also cause milia, making it very important for those who wear make-up to wash it off each day.

Sun Exposure

Another contributing factor to milia is excessive exposure to the sun. When skin is exposed to the sun, it causes it to thicken. Over time, this causes the skin to lose its ability to naturally exfoliate. Dead skin cells, dirt, oil and debris then get trapped in the layers just below the surface, causing milia. This process can compound over time, since thickening of skin also occurs naturally with age. Protecting your skin from the sun will keep it supple and able to exfoliate naturally.


A lack of essential vitamins, especially vitamin A, has been associated with milia formation. In addition, a diet rich in proteins, fats and cholesterol also adds to milia formation. To keep your skin milia free, eat a diet rich in vegetables, fruits and whole grains. Keep cholesterol-rich foods, such as egg yolks and margarine, to a minimum.

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