Answer: This is a great question! First, let’s identify what this really is. What you’re describing is not a whitehead but rather what is known as milia. Milia differ from whiteheads in that they are a hard bump under the skin. These little bumps are tiny cysts that can grow in size and must be extracted by making a tiny incision in the skin. This is something that can be done during a medical facial.
The cause of these tiny cysts known as milia can be genetic, however they are most commonly attributed to dry or dead skin cells being trapped in the dead skin layer called the stratum corneum. Usually they are formed when a patient is experiencing a case of dry skin, chronic sun damage, or irritating skin conditions such as dermatitis, rosacea or seborrhea. These conditions may cause the trapping of epithelial cells instead of normal sloughing. Use of comedogenic (acne causing) creams and lotions may prevent the sloughing of the dead epidermal cells, subsequently creating milia.
So how do you prevent getting milia? You’ll want to use an exfoliating cleanser 3+ times a week. Whatever you do avoid harsh scrubs to exfoliate. I never recommend scrubs. They’re just too harsh and there are better options with superior results. Look for gentle exfoliating ingredients, such as alpha hydroxy acids, retinol (also known as vitamin A), or glycolic acid. Your skin care professional can recommend which one is best for your skin type. They can also recommend a new moisturizer to help prevent recurrence.