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Symptoms and treatment of milia

Milia is a skin condition that affects all ages and presents similarly to acne or whiteheads. There are two types of the condition: primary milia, in which benign, fluid-filled cysts are formed on the face when dead skin cells don't shed properly, and secondary milia, in which the facial cysts developed in areas that are already afflicted with another skin condition.

Milia is particularly common in infants, affecting nearly 50 percent of all babies. It's often confused with or described as baby acne, though there are slight differences in the appearance of the two. Milia bumps are typically white, while baby acne is similar to adult acne and is pink or red in color.

Milia Causes and Symptoms

Milia can be caused by overuse of heavy cosmetic products, which can prevent the skin from properly shedding its dead cells. Other irritants to the skin, such as a rough pillow case or blanket, can also cause the condition, particularly in infants. Finally, the sun can also be a trigger – chronic sun exposure and sunburn leads to toughened skin that inhibits the sloughing off of dead cells.

Primary milia is most commonly located around the eye and the nose, but secondary milia can occur anywhere on the body. You typically won't know when a breakout is going to occur until it actually does.

Milia Treatment

In infants, milia is generally left to heal on its own, which it will do over a period of a few weeks. In adults, the condition is longer-lasting, so treatment may be necessary. If you are diagnosed with secondary milia, doctors will first attempt to clear up the existing skin condition to see if that takes care of the milia as well. In cases of primary milia, topical ointments may be prescribed or the bumps may be lanced using a special tool (note: never do this at home). Microdermabrasion is another option.

In terms of prevention, regular, light exfoliation is recommended as it helps remove the buildup of dead skin cells. If you use cosmetics, make sure they are high quality and oil-free so as not to clog your pores.

Conditions Related to Milia

Though milia is similar to acne, the two are not necessarily related. Milia is more similar to the following conditions, based on its causes and presentation:

  • Syringoma (benign skin bumps caused by overgrowth of sweat gland cells)
  • Sebaceous hyperplasia (enlargement of oil glands in the skin)
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