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, M.D., 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, which helps bring them to the 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 Retinoid
As the first FDA-approved over-the-counter retinoid with 0.1% adapalene (which was previously available only with a prescription), this gel encourages 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 and stick with it over time. A heavy-duty moisturizer and a protective sunscreen will help minimize potential side effects like dryness and irritation.
According to one reviewer: "I've had undereye milia for most of my life and never found anything that would make it go away. Many years ago I had several bumps removed by a dermatologist which was unpleasant, left red spots under my eyes for weeks and within months the milia came back. But to my great surprise, this stuff [works]! I've only had it a couple of days but already the milia is nearly gone. I've used it at night and it does dry the skin quite a bit, but in the morning I've been putting Vitamin E oil under my eyes and that helps. So far no flaking skin, no bad reaction and the milia is barely there. I'm beyond impressed!”
2. Exfoliate With Glycolic Acid Peel 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 encourage a firmer, smoother, more even-looking complexion. 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 Liquid Exfoliant With Salicylic Acid
One of the concerns many of us (and especially those of us with sensitive skin) have when using salicylic acid is that it will cause our skin to become dry and irritated. This cult-favorite exfoliating liquid with 2% salicylic acid is raved about for being nonirritating, fragrance free, and ideal for almost all skin types (though if you do have sensitive skin, you should only use it sparingly — about once or twice a week). It helps unclog pores and slough away bumpy skin, including milia and blackheads, but it’s also great for helping to maintain generally clear, smooth skin.
According to one reviewer: "I purchased this after reading so many positive reviews . And after trying it for myself, I’m also happy to say that YES this product works!!! I had developed Milia (tiny bumps) under one eye and thought I had to go to a dermatologist to get it removed or treated . Thank goodness I did not have to go , instead I bought this and tried it under my eye for only 1 week and the bump is completely gone ...”
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 unwanted scars and hyperpigmentation, and with 2.5% glycolic acid, it's suitable for sensitive skin. Several of the 4,000+ Amazon reviewers have reported luck with using this to treat their milia.
According to one reviewer: "I waited a few months to write a review. I love this stuff! I had milia spots on my face that wouldn't go away...until now! My face feels soft. I really see a difference!”
5. Add A Retinol Serum To Your Skin Care Routine
This retinol serum contains a powerful 2.5% retinol, vitamin E, hyaluronic acid, and jojoba oil, which work together to unclog pores and fade unwanted acne scars while simultaneously moisturizing your skin. Apply this serum at night to your face, paying close attention to the 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: "Skin feels smoother, experiencing less acne breakouts, and it did an amazing job clearing away the few spots of milia that were near my eyes. I would recommend this product if [you’re] having similar issues.”
6. Apply A Sulfur & Zinc Oxide 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: In addition to salicylic acid, it contains both sulfur and zinc oxide to get rid of the likes of milia and whiteheads. These ingredients help 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 absolutely cannot get enough of this product. It dries up whiteheads and gets ride of bumps underneath the skin overnight. I cannot live with it. I will definitely continue using this product as part of my beauty regime. If you want to keep stubborn acne and whiteheads at bay, you must purchase this product!!!!!”