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If you have little bumps under your eyes, it’s a good bet they puzzle you. What are they? Where did they come from? Can anything be done about them?
There’s more than one culprit at work. The first is something everyone deals with as they age — thinning skin around the eyes. As you probably know, the skin surrounding your eyes is delicate even when you’re young. As you age, this skin becomes thinner. That’s why crow’s feet are some of the first signs of aging many people notice. Thin skin is also a factor in problems under the eye — including dark circles, puffiness and little bumps — as skin that has grown thin can no longer cover and keep what’s underneath in check (Karinb 1).
Sometimes, what’s underneath your eyes can show up as little bumps. These typically occur in the tear troughs that trail down alongside the nose from your tear ducts. The second culprit, or what's actually behind—or inside—those bumps may be a little harder to figure out. There are three leading possibilities.
Milia are tiny white cysts often found on the faces of infants and sometimes adults. These bumps occur at the base of hair follicles. They are caused by keratin (a substance your skin produces) or other debris that clogs pores.
When milia appear on the faces of infants, the condition most often clears up by itself. Unfortunately this isn’t the case most of the time for adults.
Although milia are harmless, some people decide to have them removed. Options for treatment include retinoid creams, dermabrasion or chemical peels and simple piercing and extraction (SkinSight 1).
Syringomas are another kind of bump that can form under the skin around the eyes. They differ from milia in appearance in that they are often a little larger and they are not white or yellowish in color.
Syringomas are caused by excess growth of sweat gland cells. Like milia they are benign, but your doctor may want to perform a biopsy to make sure there’s no sign of skin cancer.
There are a variety of methods doctors use to banish syringomas, from removing them through cauterization or excision to laser treatment and dermabrasion (SkinSight 2).
Yellowish in color, xanthelasma are raised, irregularly shaped growths on the eyelids, both upper and lower. They are often found in patients with high levels of fat in the bloodstream, and they can grow larger and more numerous with time.
If you seek treatment for xanthelasma, your doctor may opt to biopsy one of the growths as a precaution. If a diagnosis of xanthelasma is confirmed, he or she will likely check the lipid levels in your bloodstream and recommend modifications in diet, exercise and medication as needed.
If these measures do not diminish xanthelasma and you decide to have them removed, your doctor may choose freezing, excision, laser treatment or another method (SkinSight 3).
If you’re noticing small bumps around your eyes, there are other possible diagnoses from sebaceous hyperplasia — enlargement of oil-producing glands — to skin cancer to simple acne. And not only can the bumps be tricky to diagnose, they can be challenging to treat as well. Skin around the eyes tends to scar easily, and some kinds of bumps are more prone to reappearing than others.
A great place you can turn to is www.skinsight.com. This website provides a comprehensive overview of most skin conditions and offers a forum, blog, physician Q&A and other resources. For an even better evaluation, see a board certified dermatologist.
Karinb. With Thin Skin, the Eyes Become a Beauty Target. ThirdAge. February 3, 2009. Web. August 30, 2011.
SkinSight. Milia: Information for adults. Web. August 20, 2011. http://www.skinsight.com/adult/milia.htm
SkinSight. Syringoma: Information for adults. Web. August 30, 2011. http://www.skinsight.com/adult/syringoma.htm
SkinSight. Xanthelasma Palpebrarum: Information for Adults. Web. August 20. 2011. http://www.skinsight.com/adult/xanthelasmaPalpebrarum.htm
Reviewed August 31, 2011
by Michele Blacksberg R.N.
Edited by Jody Smith