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 unwanted 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.
Why do you get milia under your eyes?
Since so few of us know much about what 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.
How do you get rid of milia under your eyes?
A licensed 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. Use A Prescription-Strength Topical Retinoid Gel
As the first FDA-approved over-the-counter retinoid with 0.1% 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.
According to one reviewer: "Used this for my milia at a dermatologist's recommendation and i was shocked at how well and how quickly it worked. It is incredibly drying until your skin adjusts. Also, it mentions using this after allowing your skin to dry for ten minutes - the first time I used it I didn't do that and my face was really irritated."
2. Apply Glycolic Acid Treatment Pads
Each of these glycolic acid treatment pads contains 20% 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% glycolic acid strengths.
According to one reviewer: "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."
3. Try A Non-Irritating Liquid Treatment With 2% 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 2% 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.
According to one reviewer: "Wow this stuff is great!! I’ve been using it for about 10 days and I can already see less black heads, smaller pores and my milia is less noticeable!!"
4. Wash Your Face With An Exfoliating Cleanser
With 2.5% 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% glycolic, it's suitable for sensitive skin. With more than 3,800 reviews and a 4.4-star overall rating, customers love this gentle wash.
According to one reviewer: "I had tried several products to get rid of white milia from my face. I started using the glycolic acid exfoliating product and after 2 months they were pretty much gone."
5. Add A Natural Retinol Serum To Your Skin Care Routine
This retinol serum contains a powerful 2.5% 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.
According to one reviewer: "I can’t believe I’ve gone my whole life without this product. It’s been only a week since I started using it and my under/over eye milia is practically gone! I’ve seen countless doctors about my milia in the past because I’ve had it since I was little and it is stubborn. They never even told me about a solution like this. Thank you for this life changing serum!"
6. Apply A Sulfur & 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.
According to one reviewer: "[I] (b)ought product for hard white bumps (milia) on my face. Am using it every night and already see a difference."
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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