An Asian woman applying a cream under her eyes

Milia under eyes occur when keratin becomes trapped underneath the skin. The “keratin plugs” form hard cysts called milia, also known as “milk spots,” commonly found under the eyes, around the lips, on the cheeks, and on the forehead. These small white or sometimes flesh-colored bumps can sometimes look like whiteheads, are rough to the touch, and can be itchy. They’re not harmful or infectious, although they do make your skin appear rough. Here’s what you can do to minimize milia.

How Keratin Becomes Trapped

Keratin is a protective protein that makes up our skin, hair, and nails, with the primary function of binding cells together. Keratin is found in large quantities in the skin, and a “plug” happens when keratin clumps with dead skin cells, blocking and surrounding a hair follicle. The resulting bump is called milia, and it’s not contagious, but it can be recurring, making the skin appear rough.

There is no single known cause why milia forms on the skin — it can be from irritation, genetics, or skin conditions such as eczema. Heavy occlusive creams and makeup products with liquid paraffin, liquid petroleum, paraffin oil, petrolatum liquid, and petroleum oil may also cause milia in milia-prone skin.

Removing Milia 

Severe cases of milia can be treated with microdermabrasion, chemical peels, or laser therapy.

Since milia isn’t a sebum plug — a pimple, whitehead, or blackhead — milia treatment involves a slightly different process. Usually, milia go away on their own without any need for intervention, but you can hasten the process by exfoliating the skin. As with all skin issues, do not attempt to extract milia or scrub them away. This will only worsen the condition. Use a toner with lactic acid and niacinamide, like POND’S Bright Beauty Pore Conditioning Toner, to soften and condition the skin by gently exfoliating the epidermis and lightening dark spots.

You can also exfoliate with gentle alpha hydroxy acids such as lactic acid or glycolic acid, often found in toners, masks, and peels to renew and brighten the skin. Salicylic acid, which is a beta hydroxy acid, also slowly exfoliates dead skin cells. A study published in the National Institutes of Health. says it may help release the trapped keratin.

Use a toner with salicylic acid if you also have oily skin or acne. POND’S Acne Clear Pore Conditioning Toner gently lifts dead skin and removes milia while treating acne deep within the pores. 

Otherwise, visit a dermatologist. For severe cases, microdermabrasion, chemical peels, or laser therapy may be recommended.

Preventing Milia

Try to avoid heavy eye creams, and don’t forget to exfoliate regularly!

To prevent milia, avoid rich, occlusive eye creams that add a barrier to prevent moisture loss. Not everyone will get milia from using it, but if you are prone to getting these keratin bumps, avoid rich creams. The thinner skin around the eyes may not be able to tolerate them. You may also give your skin a little nudge when it comes to exfoliation with serums and gentle scrubs. POND’S Clear Solutions Facial Scrub has salicylic acid and lactic acid that can lift dead skin and release trapped keratin. Don’t forget to scrub gently.

Milia under eyes can be annoying, but it’s nothing to worry about, and it usually goes away on its own. If you want to speed up the process, try the products above and add regular gentle exfoliation to your skincare routine.