Be Careful of the Skincare Product That Could Be the Secret Cause of Milia

Be Careful of the Skincare Product That Could Be the Secret Cause of Milia

November 8, 2021

Do you have stubborn white bumps on your face that refuse to go away? While these "milk spots" or "oil seeds" are often mistaken for whiteheads, they're a common skin condition called milia.

These tiny pearl-like bumps that form under the epidermis aren't considered acne. You can get milia at any age — even as a newborn. Sometimes, it's due to genetics, says Dr. Michele Green, a cosmetic dermatologist in New York City. Other causes, however, can include none other than your eye cream. More specifically, thick, pore-clogging formulas.

Now, this doesn't mean abandoning your eye creams by any means, but if you're someone who experiences milia or has a family that does, then it could benefit you to pay extra attention to the type of eye creams you're using.

In addition to this product, there can be other causes for milia, but the good news is, there are ways to treat it. Here, we turned to experts to find out everything you need to know about milia, including what it is, how to get rid of it, and whether or not you can prevent it in the first place.

What Is Milia?

Derived from the Greek word for "seed," milia are tiny cysts that appear as small, white-ish-looking bumps, says Dr. Michele Farber, a board-certified dermatologist of Schweiger Dermatology Group in Pennsylvania. 

Milia forms when a buildup of dead skin cells, keratin, and sebum get trapped beneath the skin surface, causing tiny raised white bumps. They're typically found under the eyes, but can also appear in other areas of the face like the nose, chin, and apples of the cheeks.

What Causes Milia?

According to Dr. Farber, milia can appear spontaneously or as a result of trauma. "Allergies or chronic rubbing, particularly around the eyes, can precipitate milia development," she says.

Dr. Annie Gonzalez, a Miami-based board-certified dermatologist of Riverchase Dermatology, says other traumatic causes for milia can be burns, rashes, or sun damage, or abrasive skin treatment, like dermabrasion

Using thick products and formulas can also lead to milia development due to the clogging of pores, which is how using a thick eye cream can be a secret culprit. "Using a thicker eye cream can clog your pores, and if you're not cleansing or exfoliating properly, keratin can begin to build," says Dr. Gonzalez. "Once keratin builds into your pores, milia can form." 

In addition to trauma and thick formulas, Dr. Gonzalez says milia can also occur due to aging. As we get older, our skin's natural exfoliating abilities tend to slow down, resulting in clogged pores and keratin buildup.

How Do You Get Rid of Milia?

Unlike the whiteheads or blackheads, milia won't budge, no matter how hard you squeeze. Using traditional topical acne treatments won't get rid of them either. "Milia are often mistaken for whiteheads but the distinction is they do not respond to acne medication or treatment and must be extracted by a dermatologist," Dr. Green explains. "You should not attempt to squeeze or try to extract them on your own as this can cause trauma to the skin and scarring."

Typically, a dermatologist will use a small lancet to safely remove the skin overtop. "Once the pore is open, it will allow your dermatologist to remove the contents of the milia," says Dr. Green. Electrodessication, an in-office treatment that uses an electrical current to remove skin lesions like skin tags, can also be used to extract milia.

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How to Prevent Milia

Avoid using thick products that contain mineral oil and petroleum, which can clog pores. Instead, opt for non-comedogenic products formulated with retinol or peptides, says Dr. Farber. "Eye creams containing peptides are great for stimulating collagen in this gentle area without clogging," she says. Retinoids are also great for prevention of milia and can be used around the eye area, she adds. The key to using retinol around the eye is to stick to a formula infused with hydrating and gentle ingredients, like the Olay Eyes Pro-Retinol Eye Treatment ($25,, to avoid irritation.

Dr. Green also suggests adding an exfoliator into your regular skincare routine to prevent the formation of milia. After cleansing, "select a toner with alpha hydroxy acids like salicylic or glycolic –these ingredients facilitate cell turnover and remove dead skin cells," she says. "Finish by using a lightweight moisturizer, since moisturizing replenishes the skin and hydrates your skin cells."

She also recommends looking for a moisturizer with that's gel-based or lightweight, preferably with hyaluronic acid. "These elements provide your skin with the nourishment it needs without clogging the pores."

We're fans of Mario Badescu's Glycolic Toner ($18, which resurfaces skin cells and contains soothing aloe vera. As for moisturizer, Neutrogena's Hydro Boost ($20, is a fast-absorbing gel moisturizer infused with skin-plumping hyaluronic acid.

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