What to do about those annoying little white spots you shouldn’t pop

The white spots on your skin you shouldn't pop

And we’re not talking about pimples

If you’ve ever looked in the mirror and noticed a few white bumps resting below the surface of your skin, you’re not alone. Those tiny, painless spots are known as milia, and it turns out they’re actually super common. 

While they can be easily mistaken for pimples, these white bumps are actually very small, hard, keratin-filled cysts. Unlike whiteheads, these spots don’t have an opening or connection to the surface of the skin – they sit super deep under the skin’s surface.

Australian Skin Clinics National Training Manager, Darlene O’Gara says, “Milia is a build-up of keratin – a protein in the outermost skin layer that forms your hair, nails and skin”.

“[Milia] commonly appear in conjunction with other skin conditions, such as rosacea, or when skin care and makeup products clog the pores,” adds O’Gara. 

There are TWO different kinds of milia. The first type is primary milia, which occurs when dead skin cells build-up in the pores, eventually becoming tiny cysts. The other type is called secondary milia and is usually caused by infection and skin damage such as sunburn blistering.

While milia can be found anywhere on the body, it tends to appear on the face. “Milia is most common on the nose, cheeks and around the eyes where the skin is softer and more susceptible to damage, which is why it’s so important not to try and pop them yourself," explains O’Gara.

So what do we do with these tiny white bumps when they won’t go away? If you’re lucky, they sometimes clear up by themselves without treatment, but milia in adults can be stubborn and often hangs around for weeks or even months.

If you find yourself with milia that just won’t go away on its own, these are the best ways to deal with this common skin condition.

1

Don’t squeeze them!

While you may be itching to get these spots off your face via the old squeezing method (which you shouldn’t be doing to your pimples, anyway! Jeez…), it turns out milia can’t and shouldn’t be popped.

Sydney dermatologist Dr Natasha Cook says, “They are completely consumed and don’t have an opening to the surface. As a result you CANNOT squeeze to get rid of them.” Squeezing milia not only creates trauma and inflammation (hello red marks and indents), but it can lead to scarring.

As the cysts are so deep below the skin’s surface, Dr Cook recommends having milia removed via a small incision in the skin. She says, “You must expose or break the surface of the skin to get them out, usually with a fine sterile needle.”

“Always get a professional to extract milia as they will be able to remove the cyst without damaging the layers of skin around it,” adds O’Gara. “Typically, it’s a quick and painless in-clinic procedure.”

2

Use exfoliating ingredients

Dr Cook says the main cause of milia is poor cell turnover, resulting in dead skin cells getting stuck deep within the pores and forming a cyst. Hormones and ageing can also contribute to their development.

In order to prevent milia, Dr Cook recommends using deep exfoliation treatments. “Prevention is key - using cell exfoliating ingredients such as AHAs, BHAs and vitamin A will encourage effective and efficient cell turnover. These ingredients will also promote new cell production and leave you with younger-looking skin at the same time!”

Sounds like a pretty sweet deal to us. O’Gara adds, “Creams including retinol will [also] help prevent milia, and in some cases, will clear them completely."

3

Have a microdermabrasion treatment

If you’re after a deeper exfoliation, O’Gara says a microdermabrasion treatment is a great option. However, she advises you do your research first to find out what’s actually included in the treatment you choose.

“Ensure the microdermabrasion includes extractions as part of the treatment and not just the exfoliation, especially if you’re wanting to specifically target concerns such as milia,” she says.

Be gone, annoying white spots!

Struggling with actual breakouts? Here’s why your pimples keep popping up in the same place.

Have you ever had milia? What treatment worked for you? Let us know in the comment section below.

Main image credit: Getty

Erin Docherty is a Contributing Beauty Writer for BEAUTYcrew. She has a keen interest in cosmeceutical skin care and is currently working on minimising her 9-step skin care routine – because ain’t nobody got time for that. When she’s not writing about the latest beauty news, or applying copious amounts of serum, you can find her spending all her money in Sephora.