Tuesday, February 23, 2016

The Heartbreak of Milia

Lately I've become obsessed with exfoliating my skin, and my selections of samples to try has tended to include at least one product designed to scrub, melt, or blast the creepy bits off my face. It's because I've started to be bothered with milia.

This isn't the first time this has happened; I've had milia before under my eyes. I concluded (correctly) that the eye cream I was using was too rich. I stopped using it, and they went away.

This time it's a little more complicated. The milia have appeared at the outward edge of my nose and in my naso-labial folds. Unfortunately, I can't place the blame any single product. The culprit could be my day cream, my night cream, my makeup ... you name it. On top of that, I'm using more products on my face than I ever have, and because I'm working my way through so many samples, I've been switching products around like a plate juggler. It has also occurred to me that the problem could be the way I sleep with my face mashed into a pillow—maybe my night creme gets pressed into my [gasp] furrows. Maybe my skin can't breathe! OMG it's CHOKING! See what I mean about heartbreak of milia? Pardon me while I wail and gnash my teeth.

ANYWAY. To address the situation is a little more complicated this time than merely switching eye creams.

But before I go on acting like my typically long-winded self, I should cover the basics.

What are milia?

A milium is a hard lump of keratin trapped under the skin. Milia look like whiteheads, but they're not. There's no infection, inflammation, or reddening, and they don't ever come to a head. Eventually, with enough cellular turnover, a milium will go away. But if you don't help it along, it takes a really long time.

Who gets milia?

Two groups of people are prone to milia: babies and grown-ups who haven't been taking good enough care of their skin.

What causes milia?

Milia are caused by a lack of exfoliation. (To avoid repeating myself and/or telling you stuff you already know, I'll point out that I discussed the need for exfoliation here.)

With babies, I'm sure it's just that their tiny systems are tuning themselves up. I mean, they're born, and they're perfect, if a little crumpled looking. Then they go through a brief phase where they might get cradle cap, then milia, then they're perfect again (until they're teenagers and their oil production ramps up.)

But with grown-ups like you and me, milia can be caused by any of the following:
  • a lack of exfoliation
  • comedogenic makeup
  • comedogenic face cream
  • comedogenic sunscreen
  • sun exposure
Yes, that's right. While sun exposure thickens the skin and makes it harder for it to shed milia, the sunscreens that prevent sun damage are pore-clogging bastards. You can't win. Unless you're a baby.

What I'm Going to Do to the Little Fuckers

1. Stop using face creams with comedogenic ingredients. I already know one prime offender.

Estee Lauder's original Re-Nutriv Creme (which I bought mostly because it's retro) contains serious amounts of lanolin as well as enough fragrance to keep a lady from smelling like a sheep. It honestly can't be great for the skin.

The current version no longer contains shark or turtle oil. Thank goodness

Sorry, Estee: Re-Nutriv is being downgraded to hand creme.

2. Double cleanse on any day I wear sunscreen. Which is every day, unless I'm in bed with the flu. Because I have dry skin with almost no tendency to break out, I have been known to be less-than-systematic with regard to this. You know, using a face wipe or two at night, or rinsing my face in my morning shower and calling it quits. That has to stop.

3. Exfoliate my entire face at least every other day. I'm currently using my Radical Skincare Age Defying Exfoliating pads, reviewed here. For suggestions of other pads you might try, click here.

4. Spot treat the actual milia with a cotton bud dipped in a beta-hydroxy acid solution. That sounds complicated, but I'm just using the liquid from my Stridex pads. In younger, more summery days, or in a beauty emergency, I have been known to use these all over my face, but at the moment, that's way too drying, so I'll just use a bit of the lotion on the milia.

By the way, these pads are dirt cheap, and they work on elbows, knees, and feet, sloughing off dead skin and keeping them soft. I always have some around. They're cheap, effective, and having anti-acne pads front and center in my bathroom makes me look young and sprightly.


  1. Ugh, milia. I have one under one of my eyes now and it sucks. I've had some good luck getting rid of them with retinol in the past too, when I have retinol that can be used around the eyes. I guess it's the same cell turnover acceleration thing.

    1. Exactly! I should have mentioned retinol or prescription Retin-A--that would be perfect for the ones I'm battling now, because they're not near my eyes. Those are definitely the most frustrating of the whole evil milia family.

  2. This was very interesting Poppy - thank you !
    I had one around my eye and I thought it was the eye cream - now I know it was! A very rich shiseido one that was super $$. Thankfully I am allergic to Lanolin so I avoid it but now I know it can give you milia as well - I have to get the old reading glasses on all the time now when Beauty Shopping !!! LOL


Gentle Readers:

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xxx, Poppy.