Infrared-to-visible upconversion phosphors Y2O3: Yb, Er and Gd2O3:Yb, Er with narrow size distribution were synthesized by using a stable microemulsion system, which included triton X-100, n-hexanol, cyclohexane and water. Appearance-controllable nanocrystals were achieved by adjusting the ratios of assistant surfactant and surfactant. The X-ray diffraction patterns of the samples showed that the powders were cubic phases of Y2O3 and Gd2O3, respectively. After calcination with different temperature settings in air atmosphere, the particles were spherical through the observation by scanning electronic microscopy. Red and green upconversion luminescence was obtained under 980 nm infrared excitation. Several contributions to the intensity of upconversion emission were also investigated. These upconversion phosphors may be used as fluorescent labels for the sensitive detection of biomolecule, immunoassay or DNA assays.