Is it milia, a wart...or worse? Here's what could be residing on your face
Acne. Blackheads. Whiteheads. Infamous skin woes that many of us are at least familiar with, and able to recognize in a glance. What about the more mysterious of skin issues though? The issues that make you stare at the mirror a little bit longer each day, making you wonder: “What is THAT and how do I get rid of it?”
Our exploration of milia was a big "AHA!" moment for many readers but what if that thing you've been obsessing over looks... kinda different? There are dozens upon dozens of skin problems that are unheard of to the average Joe (or Jane), so we've decided to shift the focus onto other common but lesser-known skin problems so you that you can be your own "Derma Detective" at home. At least, until you vamoose to the nearest actual derma for your skin's health and safety!
This is the skin problem that I’m sadly all too familiar with, and also refer to as "chicken skin". Mine are clustered mostly on the upper arms, but they can be found anywhere from the face to the legs. They're basically small, red bumps that pop up when dead skin gets trapped in hair follicles.
Having KP almost always means that the affected skin is dry and rough, but a small comfort for those of us who have it is that doctors often consider KP as just another ‘type’ of normal skin. It can’t be cured or prevented though, but in many instances, KP gradually disappears with age.
In the meantime, you can minimize its appearance with regular exfoliation and the use of moisturizers or prescribed creams afterwards. Personally, what worked for me was to use either an exfoliating towel or mitt while in the shower followed by the application of a gentle but highly moisturizing lotion afterwards. My preferred one is the Physiogel Hypoallergenic Lotion that’s easily available in most local, leading department stores. My KP is still very much there, but it’s now a lot smoother!
First up on the unwanted list is what many consider to be an embarrassing body bump. Different from milia which aren't contagious, warts are caused by viruses and can therefore be passed on from person to person. That’s why one should ALWAYS wear flip-flops in communal showers, and why sharing towels or clothes with someone who has warts is a big no-no.
There are five identifiable types of warts: common warts (rough, dome-shaped, and gray-brown in color), plantar warts (hard patches with dark specks that grow on soles of the feet), flat warts (small and either pink, brown or yellow usually found on the face, arms or legs), filiform warts (skin-colored with thread-like growths), and periungal warts (rough bumps with an ‘uneven border’ found around toenails or fingernails). They look vastly different from milia, so telling them apart should be a piece of cake.
If you spot this kind of growth, don't panic! They can (and should) be treated, whether topically at home or by a dermatologist. The safest way to DIY your own wart removal is to regularly apply tea tree oil or bee propolis on the affected area. If you want something more potent and quick-acting, local drug stores have a variety of creams or ointments like DuoFilm for treating warts. A visit to your trusted derma is still the surest way to garner a cure, though, and minimize the chances of scarring. There they can freeze it off with the use of liquid nitrogen, or use specialized lasers to effectively ‘burn’ the wart away.
The only thing milia and skin tags have in common is that that they’re not contagious, but that’s where the similarities end. With skin tags, instead of an accumulation of dead skin cells, they’re actually just little ‘flaps’ of raised skin or tissue. They're most likely caused by excessive rubbing or friction from clothes or jewelry, or even frequent skin-on-skin contact. Why they form and their exact cause is still unknown though. Bummer!
Oh, and don’t worry if you’re like me and regularly need to exfoliate both your body and face because proper exfoliation, which does involve a certain level of friction, might even help prevent skin tags and other skin problems from forming. Skin tags are more likely to appear on those who are older, obese or have diabetes, but they can also form in childhood and disappear on their own with age. These ‘terrible tags’ tend to be found in different areas on the body like the neck, underarms or even the genital region, rather than on the face.
Just like warts, skin tags can succumb to liquid nitrogen, but they can also be banished by your derma applying a special solution to chemically burn it away, electrocautery (using electricity to zap it into oblivion), or by simply snipping it off with sterilized scissors. Generously treating the skin tag with apple cider vinegar or lemon juice are popular home treatments if you want an alternate route.
Syringoma can look quite similar to milia, plus they have a nasty habit of clustering around the eye area too, though they can also be found on the upper cheeks, forehead, chest and a variety of other places. They can appear round or almost flat, but are still flesh-colored.
Now I’ll have to be Bad News Brian here because if you have syringoma, which is caused mainly by cell overgrowth from overactive sweat glands, it prefers to be a permanent resident making it very difficult to ‘evict’ from your skin. Other possible causes for syringoma include hormonal imbalance (as in puberty and pregnancy) and even underlying medical conditions like diabetes and Down’s syndrome.
So how does one try to say sayonara to syringoma? Consulting with your derma is your best bet, especially since medical conditions might be the culprit. Once those are ruled out, your options for removal include excision (cutting and removing each individual syringoma) and lasering (using a CO2 laser to kill the cells). You can also have a simple dermabrasion if you don’t want a procedure that’s too invasive, but it only rubs down the bump until the skin appears flat.
To minimize your chances of being inflicted in the first place, make sure to:
- Avoid smoking and consuming excessive amounts of alcohol (sorry, party animals)
- Eat a healthy and balanced diet that includes enough antioxidants and vitamins
- Regularly wear sunscreen as unprotected exposure to the sun, or allergic skin rashes in general, may aggravate your skin and lead to a syringoma outbreak
This other complicated sounding skin problem can be differentiated by their yellow or orange appearance and can be found anywhere on the body. They’re sometimes larger than your typical milia, irregular in shape and form, and also like to hang out around or on the eyelids. If you’re a frequent consumer of unhealthy food (guilty as charged!), the appearance of these fatty-looking pockets on your skin may also indicate that you have high cholesterol or high levels of triglycerides (AKA fats in the blood).
If you do indeed have xanthomas, consider them a (totally harsh) reminder to start eating right! Certain cancers or pancreatitis can also be the reason behind xanthomas, so make sure to get yourself checked by a doctor.
Excision, laser therapy, or the use of a topical acid are the usual dermatological treatments for this but if you want to bid them farewell once and for all, maintaining a balanced diet is more than essential. C’mon. Do you really need this skin issue to be the reason to keep fit and have good-looking skin at the same time? I don’t think so.
Yes, there are a lot of other skin issues out there that may be clever impostors and look like a lot like milia, but to spare you from reading a hundred page article I’ll just give you another piece of advice that’s easy to remember: if you don’t know the cure, ask to be sure. Instead of poking and prodding at any mysterious bumps in front the mirror, make the smart (and safe) move and head on over to your trusted dermatologist to really get the skinny on what’s going on with your skin!
Arian Yupangco is a beauty blogger and Philippin Star columnist currently studying makeup artistry.