Milia aren't pimples, they're not your typical whiteheads, and they can't be popped and forgotten about the next day. But, if you're wondering how to get rid of milia — those teeny skin-colored bumps that mysteriously appear beneath your eyes — you should know that there are products that can banish milia bumps and prevent new ones from forming.
Since so few of us know much about the enemy we're dealing with, let's start by actually understanding why milia form on the delicate skin under your eyes: “Milia are small epidermoid cysts — thin-walled balls of keratin that sit under the top layers of the skin,” says Tsippora Shainhouse, MD, a board-certified dermatologist based in California. “Because the overlying pore has closed, these whiteheads — like lesions — can take a very long time to resolve on their own.”
Milia tends to develop on the face (cheeks, eyelids, nose, chin) as small, white-yellow bumps, Dr. Shainhouse says, and can occur in adults due to aggressive or irritating cosmetic procedures (dermabrasion, chemical peels, ablative laser treatment, tattoos, et cetera) or within healing blisters and scars.
A dermatologist can express the keratin out of milia using a small blade (but do not try this at home) — or you can rely on over the counter ingredients that can get the job done.
“Topical alpha hydroxy acids, like glycolic acid and lactic acid, can be useful ingredients for mild exfoliation of the skin to encourage the milia to come to the surface and eventually pop out,” Dr. Shainhouse says. “Try an acid toner or home peel twice a week, or look for a face lotion containing alpha hydroxy acids. On the spot salicylic acid treatments can be used over the milia to slowly peel the overlying skin, and thin out the layers that are trapping the milia cyst. Use this at night time.”
Topical retinoids may be helpful at preventing the development of new milia cysts as well, according to Dr. Shainhouse. She advises looking for over-the-counter retinoids with ingredients like adapalene and retinol to encourage cell turnover and reduce the stickiness of cells in the pore, helping to bring them to the skin surface, where they can be washed off.
While milia bumps aren't harmful, if you'd like to get rid of milia under your eyes and elsewhere, these six products can help.
1. A Prescription-Strength Topical Retinoid Gel
As the first FDA-approved over-the-counter retinoid with 0.1 percent adapalene (which was previously available only with a prescription), this gel normalizes skin-cell turnover and attacks milia and other forms of acne by unclogging pores and reducing inflammation. It's important to note that this treatment is strong and effective, which means that it's important to start slow (like every other day) and stick with it. A heavy-duty moisturizer to prevent drying and a protective sunscreen can also help. "My skin has never looked better," one buyer reports. "My skin in completely smooth - no more milia, blackheads, or other blemishes."
2. Convenient Glycolic Acid Treatment Pads
Each of these glycolic acid treatment pads contains 20 percent glycolic acid for maximum exfoliation, as well as vitamins A, C, and E and CoQ10 to promote collagen productions, moisturize, and even out skin tone. Green tea extract calms the skin. Start by using them at night once or twice a week until your skin adjusts — the convenience of these pads will blow you away. For those with more sensitive skin, this pad also comes in 10 and 15 percent glycolic acid strengths.
"AMAZING!!! I have suffered from milia on my back, chest, shoulders and even neck for 25 years. Nothing ever helped until I tried this product, My skin is now smooth and bump free! I am on my 2nd jar and use it every night after showering. There is so much dirt and grease that comes off on these pads. I wish I had found this sooner," one fan says.
3. A Non-Irritating Liquid Treatment With 2 Percent BHA
One of the concerns many of us (and especially those of us with sensitive skin) have when using salicylic acid is that it will dry out the skin or cause irritation. This cult-favorite exfoliating liquid with two percent salicylic acid BHA is raved about for being nonirritating, fragrance free, and ideal for almost all skin types. It helps unclog pores and slough away bumpy skin, including milia. Use it up to twice daily after cleansing and toning and before applying moisturizer but start at once a day at night or a few times a week and be sure to use sunscreen.
"If you had told me that my gaping nose pores would be next to invisible & my milia would be greatly reduced in a matter of days, I would've told you to take that snake-oil pitch somewhere else. But it actually happened!" one customer raves.
4. An Exfoliating Cleanser With Glycolic Acid
With 2.5 percent glycolic acid and a combination of hydrating and soothing ingredients like rose hip, tea tree, and jojoba oils, this exfoliating cleanser sloughs away dead skin cells and dirt, but leaves behind a smooth and soft complexion. To boot: Its ingredients help lighten acne scars and hyperpigmentation, and at 2.5 percent glycolic, it's suitable for sensitive skin. With more than 1,800 reviews and a 4.3-star overall rating, customers love this gentle wash.
"I have milia... I've tried everything (including professional extraction at $20 an incision) to get rid of it and have never been able to until now. After using this for a few weeks along with the retinol moisturizer, I have finally seen a noticeable decrease in milia AND as a bonus my stubborn nose black heads have really calmed down," says one shopper.
5. A Natural Retinol Serum At A Great Price
This retinol serum contains a powerful 2.5 percent retinol, vitamin E, hyaluronic acid, and jojoba oil, which combine to unclog pores, fade acne scars, stimulate collagen production, and moisturize skin. It's made with natural and organic ingredients and is formulated without parabens, harsh chemicals, artificial colors, dyes, or fragrances — it's even safe to use on sensitive skin. Apply this serum at night to your face, paying close attention to milia (but be careful not to get it in your eye), and, with continued use, you should start seeing a difference within a few weeks.
"I had one milia bump under my eyelid for about 1 and a half years. It wasn't too noticeable really but it was there. So I bought this product and used it for less than 1 and a half weeks and sure enough the milia was gone," one customer says.
6. A Sulfur And Zinc Oxide Acne Spot Treatment
Most acne spot treatments contain salicylic acid and/or benzoyl peroxide but if you've tried those and they just don't work for you, this spot treatment is different: It contains a hefty dose of sulfur as well as zinc oxide to get rid of the likes of milia and acne. "EradiKate is a great quick-fix that I apply anytime a zit sneaks up on me. I see a near immediate reduction in redness and inflammation blemishes after use," says one reviewer.
A smaller dose of salicylic acid BHA helps with the exfoliation process. These natural ingredients clear up spots like milia fast while simultaneously absorbing excess sebum to prevent new breakouts. Apply the treatment directly to your milia and maybe hold your breath for a second: Sulfur has a notoriously unpleasant scent, but the results are worth it.
This post was originally published on June 2, 2017. It was updated on June 21, 2019. Additional reporting by Jen Fiegel.
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