Does Your Skin Have Tiny White Bumps? Leave Them Alone

Common condition will go away on its own in a few weeks

If you have tiny white bumps on your nose, chin or cheeks, resist the urge to try removing them.

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You likely have milia, a skin condition that’s common among newborns – so common, in fact, that up to half of all babies develop milia.

Mila happens when dead skin cells get trapped beneath the skin’s surface and form small, hard cysts. Milia is common in babies because their skin is still learning to exfoliate, or slough off dead skin cells, on its own.

Although milia is most commonly seen on the nose, chin or cheeks, it can occur on other areas such as the upper trunk and limbs.

Adult milia falls into two types: primary and secondary. Primary is similar to the kind that babies get. Secondary happens when a skin condition that leads to blistering damages the pore lining. Burns or severe rashes, for example, can increase the number of skin cells trapped under the skin’s surface.

Leave them alone

Usually, the best treatment for milia is to do nothing, says dermatologist Melissa Piliang, MD. Milia usually disappears in a few weeks.

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“If you’re an adult with milia, you might try an over-the-counter exfoliating treatment that contains salicylic acid,” Dr. Piliang says. “This can improve exfoliation, and may help speed up the bumps dissolving.”

For adults, sun damage can be a contributing factor to milia because it makes skin leathery. This makes it more difficult for dead cells to rise to the skin’s surface and shed normally.

Maintaining a good skin-care routine can help minimize the chance of milia appearing in adults, Dr. Piliang says.

“Because secondary milia can be caused by sun damage, wear a moisturizer or makeup every day with at least SPF 15 to protect your skin,” she says. “I recommend an SPF of 30 in the warmer months.”

If your baby is the one with milia, Dr. Piliang offers these tips:

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  • Keep your baby’s face clean by washing her face with warm water every day. If your baby’s skin seems oily, especially around the nose, you can use a mild moisturizing soap.
  • Dry your baby’s face gently by patting the skin dry — do not rub.
  • Don’t apply lotions with salicylic acid or other exfoliating agents meant for adults – a baby’s delicate skin cannot handle it.

It’s important that you refrain from trying to remove the bumps by squeezing or scraping them as you would a pimple, Dr. Piliang says.

“Milia are hard and beneath the skin’s surface, so you’ll likely only irritate and damage the skin around the cyst,” she says. “You could wind up scarring the skin permanently.”

When to see the doctor

If your milia doesn’t respond to an exfoliating treatment after several weeks, consider making an appointment with a dermatologist. The doctor may use a hypodermic needle to remove the cyst, or freeze the cyst and then remove it.

If your baby’s complexion doesn’t clear up within three months, consult your baby’s doctor at your next well-baby visit.