How to Get Rid of Milia (Small, Hard, White Bumps)

If you’ve noticed small, hard, white bumps on your face, especially around the eye area, you might be experiencing a skin issue known as milia. Find out the cause, and how to banish those bothersome bumps.

What Causes Milia?

Milia occur when dead skin cells get trapped under the skin’s surface, forming small, hard cyst-like bumps. These tiny, pearl-like bumps are often mistaken for whitehead pimples, but there are a few key differences:

  • Milia are firm, and trying to “pop” them doesn’t work.
  • Unlike pimples, milia often show up around the eyes and other parts of the face that aren’t normally prone to acne.
  • They also don’t have the soreness or redness associated with a pimple forming.

Babies often get milia because their skin is still “learning” how to exfoliate, but this is something they grow out of—there’s no need to treat it (milia is benign), and it certainly doesn’t bother the baby.

Milia in adults can be an aesthetic nuisance—one that doesn’t go away as quickly as you like. You might also be using products that are making it worse. Fortunately, you don’t necessarily need special milia treatments or prescription products to treat it. That’s where a few skincare adjustments come into play…

How to Get Rid of Milia

First line of defense: Use a beta hydroxy acid (BHA, also known as salicylic acid) product over clean skin to exfoliate. Don’t expect results overnight—it often takes weeks of consistent use to notice a difference. For extra stubborn bumps, try higher concentrations (between 4% and 9%) of BHA.

Believe it or not, sun protection also plays a vital role. It protects skin from becoming rough and leathery which lessens the likelihood that dead cells will get stuck in the pore lining and fuel the formation of these bumps. Use a broad-spectrum SPF 30 or greater to protect your skin every day.

If you started noticing milia around your eyes after using a rich eye cream, try switching to a lighter lotion, gel, or serum. The heavier cream could potentially contribute to the clogging that causes milia in the first place.

If skincare is not enough to get rid of your milia, the next step is to talk with a dermatologist. They can diagnose whether you’re dealing with milia or something else, and discuss other treatment options with you, including lancing and chemical peels. But, even if you need to go this route, it’s important to continue at-home care to help maintain the results.

What About Milia Extractions?

Trying to squeeze or remove milia on your own typically doesn’t work and, more importantly, can easily end up damaging skin. This is especially risky when you’re dealing with a bump on your eyelid. We only recommend extraction or other forms of removal by a trained professional, using extreme caution and sterile tools.

Note: If you have yellowish bumps around your eyes and on your eyelids, they may not be true milia, as milia are typically translucent flesh to white. You may instead be dealing with a skin growth known as a xanthoma. These bumps are common in people who have high cholesterol or high triglyceride levels and you should discuss it with your physician.

References for this information:

Clinical, Cosmetic, and Investigational Dermatology, August 2015, pages 455461
Advances in Dermatology and Allergology, December 2013, pages 399402
Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, December 2008, pages 10501063
American Family Physician, January 2008, pages 4752
Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, 2002, pages 602603