What Are Milia?

If you have ever noticed small, pearl like bumps trapped under the skin around your eyes, on your cheeks or forehead to which no amount of squeezing, prodding or scrubbing has any effect other than leaving your skin looking like you’re getting ready for Halloween… Don’t Panic!

These tiny terrors are called Milia (Plural for ‘Milium’) and are,in themselves, completely harmless. However, for those of us who have them, they are annoying and unsightly and in severe cases can impact on our self-esteem. Milium are small keratin cysts that are said to form when skin cells that would normally naturally shed away from the surface of the skin become trapped. Over time, these trapped dead cells mix with the skin’s natural oils and secretions to form a plug which hardens into a seed like ball with a white, pearly appearance.

Milia can happen to anyone regardless of age, sex or race and is most commonly seen in new born babies. In fact about 50% of newborns will develop Milia and although no firm cause is known, it is believed to be caused by sweat glands that have not fully developed or matured and they will usually disappear over the first few weeks and months. This form of Milia is called Neonatal Milia. There are 4 other types of Milia including two very rare types called Milia en Plaque and Multiple Eruptive Milia (so I won’t discuss these two here) however the other two are very common and can affect both children and adults.

Secondary Milia – usually develop in an area of the skin (anywhere on the body) that has been previously damaged or injured; like after a bad sunburn or blistery rash. It is believed that damage to the sweat glands may be the cause.

Primary Milia – is the most common of all 4 types and is often said to be caused by various products, lifestyle or environmental influences such as sun-damage on the skin or using heavy or rich skin care products. One thing is certain… it has nothing to do with how well (or not) you cleanse your skin and everything to do with how well your skin is naturally able to exfoliate itself. My research for writing this blog has lead me to some pretty interesting information as to why the skin may have these ‘mechanical issues’ (but more on that later). Some professionals may even tell you that it is caused by having aggressive exfoliations or peels and that there is no pre-disposition (not genetic) for this condition…. but I’m not sure that I totally agree with that.

As a teenager, I had a friend who had a server case of Milia. He literally had hundreds of them, some big, some small, covering both sides of his face. We would have been 14 or 15 years old… he hadn’t had any damage to his skin, he didn’t use heavy skin care and he certainly hadn’t had any expensive peels or exfoliation treatments… he was your typical teenage boy but what I do remember is that he did like to drink a lot of milk! I don’t think I ever saw him without a glass of plain, full-cream milk in his hand… so this, plus talking to many milia suffering clients over the years and combined with the interesting information I have uncovered during my research, brings me to my own theory. Just stick with me for a bit here:

Many chronic skin conditions, such as Acne, Eczema and Keratosis Pilaris are caused by an internal imbalance of our body’s systems and more often than not, these ‘imbalances’ are triggered by the foods we eat…. Number 1 culprit… SUGAR! Sugar affects our gut’s natural micro-biome. It promotes the growth of bad bacteria in the gut, causing an inflammatory response which can ultimately show up on the skin. We all know that refined sugar is in many of our processed foods but, what some may not realize is that other foods that you may not directly associate with sugar will actually contain some form of sugar… Number 2 culprit… DAIRY! Lactose is the name of the ‘sugar’ contained in mammal milk and dairy products. Human mother’s milk (because we are mammals) also contains Lactose and as infants we produce digestive enzymes called ‘lactase’ and ‘rennin’ which breaks down the lactose in our mother’s milk. However, many of us stop producing lactase by the time were are 4 years old and therefore no longer have the ability to properly digest milk.

Why do we stop producing these digestive enzymes? Well, basically because our bodies are not made to continue drinking milk into adulthood. The fact that we continue to do so is by choice not by need. Humans are the only species on this planet that not only continue drinking milk into adulthood but that also drink milk of another species… COWS!… (shaking my head as I write this). About 75% of the world’s population is unable to break down lactose as adults, you have probably heard of this before… it’s called ‘Lactose Intolerance’. Milk also contains a protein called Casein which our bodies have a very hard time breaking down and digesting, therefore over time and repeated bombardment our gut just puts the breaks on and says ‘NO WAY’… if you put dairy in me… I will make you suffer. And suffer we do because Casein is not only found in milk and dairy products such as cheese but is also used in other foods for it’s thickening and congealing ability so even if you stop eating dairy, you may still be consuming Casein.

So, lets see if you are following me so far…

Refined sugar affects our guts natural biome by overpopulating it with the bad bacteria that loves feeding on sugar so when you have a high sugar diet, your gut becomes unbalanced and your bodies systems start to suffer… the excretory system starts to look for alternative ways for eliminating waste and thinks… ‘hey lets use the skin to get all this sh..(muck) out of this body… In the meantime, you’re having your smoothie or your latte, your ice-cream or your innocent cereal with milk (which,in a perfect gut, takes a long time to digest) but your gut is being held hostage by the bad bacteria so it can’t deal with processing the load. The waste and toxins build up and as a last resort get eliminated through the skin.

What has that got to do with Milia?… Personally (but I am not alone), I believe that Milia is the result of too much refined sugar and undigested dairy in the gut! Two things humans should not be eating. The waste has to go somewhere right? Why not the skin,  it’s the biggest organ of the human body. Of course I’m not presuming this is the only reason we get Milia but definitely a major contributing factor. Now, things start to make sense… thickened or sun damaged skin traps the waste being excreted through the skin. Or perhaps you are using heavy skincare or make-up that also blocks the natural secretions and all of a sudden you start to get this build up of muck, that is trying to leave your body, trapped under the skin. After a while of being trapped the blockage becomes hard and develops into what we call a Milium. The only way to remove milia is to have them lanced out. A sterile lance can be used to break the surface of the skin above the milium and then an extraction tool (or blackhead remover tool) used to gently apply pressure around the milium will force it to simply pop out of the skin. A trained Beautician can normally do this for you or you may prefer to visit your doctor or skin specialist.

And what about new born babies then?… Well, new born babies usually grow out of getting Milia within the first few months… why? I don’t think it has as much to do with ‘underdeveloped sweat glands’ as it has to do with the maturation of the babies gut. Remember that a mother’s milk is made to gradually introduce a new born’s gut to the substance… first in the form of colostrum (which is almost lactose free) and then after a few days the mother’s milk slowly starts to thicken as more lactose is produced. One the gut is accustomed to digesting the lactose, the Milia subsides. Makes sense now why Milia is often referred to as ‘Milk Spots’.

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