Gazing closely into a magnifying mirror often reveals subtle skin imperfections, such as tiny, flesh-colored bumps that emerge on and around your eyelids and lash line. Although they may resemble whiteheads or pimples, these bumps, known as milia, are entirely harmless but can disrupt your quest for flawless eye makeup. Explore the reasons behind their occurrence and effective strategies for dealing with them.
Trapped Beneath the Skin
Often mistaken for whiteheads or skin tags, these benign bumps, called milia, are incredibly stubborn and can last for weeks, months or sometimes even longer. Milia can develop when oil glands fail to fully or properly develop. Instead of the skin shedding naturally, it traps the oil, eventually forming a bump.
“Milia are the build up of keratin cells under the skin,” explains Beverly Hills, CA oculoplastic surgeon Raymond Douglas, MD. “They develop into hard cysts of cells that present as tiny raised bumps from the skin’s surface and feature a white, pin-sized head.” Dr. Douglas notes they are usually found on the face but can also be found along the cheeks, forehead, nose or lips.
“The most prevalent types of tiny, flesh-colored bumps around the eyes include milia, which form due to trapped oil glands; syringomas, resulting from sweat duct tumors; and xanthelasma, caused by cholesterol deposits beneath the skin,” says New York dermatologist Jody Levine, MD. These can look similar to each other and a skin-care professional can help you distinguish between them.
What Causes Milia?
Milia can also form as a result of pore-clogging cosmetics, skin-care products like sunscreen and heavy creams, or even sun exposure. “While eye creams, eyeliners, or under-eye concealers could contribute to their formation, milia can also occur in individuals who have never used any cosmetics or skin care products,” says New York oculoplastic surgeon Irene Glastein, MD. “Don’t be too bummed about those weird white bumps—there is a silver lining. If you stick to a proper skin-care regimen that includes regularly washing your face, you will see a reduction in the occurrence of milia and simultaneously improve skin quality, resilience, and overall health.”
The skin on and around your eyelids is very thin and more likely to experience milia due to comedogenic (pore-clogging) creams and lotions that may prevent the natural exfoliation process of dead skin cells. Washing your face and exfoliating regularly may help prevent the bumps from forming.“ Due to the role of trapped oil in milia formation, it is best to avoid oil-based makeup removers and under-eye creams,” says Dr. Gladstein. “You might also consider switching from heavier cosmetics and skin-care products to those with thinner formulations like gels or lotions.”
Remove your makeup every night by washing with a detoxifying cleanser that has deep-cleansing properties. Dr. Douglas recommends Revision Skincare Purifying Cleansing Gel ($40) which helps exfoliate and cleanse with a lactic and salicylic blend. Refresh during the day with Tower 28 SOS Daily Rescue Facial Spray ($28).
At-home remedies like facial steaming with a facial tea that contains a mix of antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, exfoliating or oil-controlling ingredients may be helpful in treating milia and unclogging pores because it helps loosen and remove dead skin cells and debris. Dr. Dennis Gross Pro Facial Steamer ($149) helps clarify pores. Mixing herbs and botanicals into your steaming practice with blends like Slow North’s Herbal Facial Steam ($18) can combat oiliness and soften skin while giving you a relaxing dose of aromatherapy. “Things like aloe, pomegranate peel powder, castor oil or sandalwood and rose water paste can help,” says Dr. Gladstein. “These may not be ‘magic potions,’ but they will keep your skin smooth, which is helpful in dealing with milia. It usually takes multiple approaches to produce the best results.”
According to Woodbury, NY oculoplastic surgeon David A. Schlessinger, MD, to keep milia from reoccurring, mild at-home resurfacing serums, creams or treatments can help. “Retinols and gentle chemical peels can prevent them from recurring,” he explains.
Milia will often resolve on their own, usually in a matter of weeks, although some can take longer. However, if the bumps on your eyelid or lash line don’t go away, schedule an appointment with your doctor or aesthetician to diagnose the cause and to develop a targeted treatment plan.
“Deroofing or extraction using a sterilized needle to open the cyst through the surface will release the keratin build up,” says Dr. Douglas. In addition to cryotherapy using liquid nitrogen to freeze the milia, Dr. Douglas adds that laser ablation using a small laser tip can get bring the keratin buildup to the surface.
“If you are concerned about the bumps and see little to no improvement, speak with your dermatologist because they may be indicative of another associated underlying condition,” advises Dr. Levine.
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