What Causes Bumps Under the Eyes?

Ask a dermaotlogistDear Dr. Bailey,

I am wondering if you can recommend a product for me. I am 50 years old. I have been using Jason brand vitamin C cleanser and face cream (both from Whole Foods) for over 20 years and I have never had a problem with it. In fact, people have always told me I have great skin.

However, about a year ago, I tried a new product that was supposed to target wrinkles under the eyes. After a week of using this product, the pores under my eyes got clogged. They now look like chicken skin. You can’t squeeze the pores. They are bumps. Other than this, my skin looks great.

Common sense tells me that a good Retinol A serum at night on the area might help. But I can’t find one. I do not want a Retinol A moisturizer. I don’t want to lubricate the area. I want a serum.

First of all, do you think this would help? And second, can you recommend a Retinol A serum that I should try?

Thank you for any help you can offer.

Sincerely, Gina P.


Hello Gina,

The solution to treating bumps under the eyes needs to start with an accurate diagnosis, which means a trip to a dermatologist! The reason is that there are several other alternative causes of “bumps” under the eyes, and they are more common than clogged pores in this area.

Common causes of bumps on the lower eyelid skin:

  1. Prominent sebaceous glands. There are many sebaceous glands in this area and they become visible when the eyelid skin thins with age or becomes dark due to circles under the eye.
  2. Syringomas. These are actually benign tumors of the sweat glands. To remove or reduce these in size requires surgical or laser treatment.
  3. Milia. These are tiny white cysts that can form anywhere, including the eyelids. They can easily be lanced by someone trained in blood-born precautions (e.g. medical personnel).

As for the difference between a serum and cream, it’s actually not a hard and fast difference. In fact, the term is often randomly selected by the product company for market niche purposes! To really evaluate the pore-clogging capacity of a product, you have to read the label. Look for oils and, if you want something less apt to block pores, skip the oils. An interesting option would be to try a pure hyaluronic acid serum such as the one made by JabaLab. It is very light and the hyaluronic acid hydrates skin to plump it, possibly diminishing the appearance of sebaceous glands. It will not lighten dark circles though. Replenix Eye Repair Cream has ingredients that can lighten dark under-eye circles. It contains retinol, hyaluronic acid, and no oils. It is an opaque product that looks creamy, hence the term “cream.”  Best eye cream

Finally, it’s important to know that retinol can irritate skin. That’s why you need to figure out the right strength for your eyelid skin. Avoid using a retinol product that’s too strong for your delicate eye area because it can lead to irritation, which unfortunately can lead to milia formation. I’ve found that the retinol level in Replenix Eye Repair Cream is right for most people’s skin, which is another reason that it’s the eye cream that I use in my practice, and that I use for my own sensitive skin.

I know that isn’t exactly the answer you were looking for, but I hope it gives you some ideas about the possible causes of your under-eye bumps and how a dermatologist would approach the problem in her/his practice.

Warm Regards,

Cynthia Bailey MD, Dermatologist

Disclaimer: Please realize that availing yourself of the opportunity to submit and receive answers to your questions from Dr. Bailey does not confer a doctor/patient relationship with Dr. Bailey. The information provided by Dr. Bailey is general health information inspired by your question. It should not be a substitute for obtaining medical advice from your physician and is not intended to diagnose or treat any specific medical problem (and is not an extension of the care Dr. Bailey has provided in her office for existing patients of her practice). Never ignore your own doctor’s advice because of something you read here; this information is for general informational purpose only.

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4 Responses to “What Causes Bumps Under the Eyes?”

  1. Erika January 11, 2013 at 1:14 pm #

    The Replenix Eye Repair cream has Myristyl Myristate and Myristyl Laurate which are highly comedogenic (http://www.zerozits.com/Articles/acnedetect.htm).

    If milia is the problem, won’t applying the eye cream exacerbate the milia problem?

  2. Cynthia Bailey MD January 13, 2013 at 3:37 pm #

    Hello Erika,
    This is an excellent question and one that gets to the essence of the difference between milia and blackheads. Milia do not come from pores (hair follicles). The are actually little pockets that form in the flat part of the skin between the pores. They happen from trauma/rashes/age. They also seem to happen just for random decorative purposes and to annoy us. Blackheads (comedones) are plugs in the pores. Comedogenic products can make them worse, but they don’t cause milia. This is why I love basic science; understanding it helps us predict outcomes and answer questions. Blackheads of the eyelids are very rare, even in really acne prone teens. There is a condition called Favre Rocouchot where milial cysts and comedones form on the cheek bones due to sun damage, but there is no need to put the eye cream on the cheeks.

  3. Vera February 7, 2013 at 12:01 am #

    Is mild AHA good to use around the eye area in general instead of Retin-A?

  4. Cynthia Bailey MD February 7, 2013 at 8:29 am #

    If skin can handle it. Often though it can’t and the result is an irritant dermatitis that looks like “crinkles”. Plus, Retin-A has the science for collagen formation and that’s what gets meaningful rejuvenation and wrinkle reduction so my preference is Retin-A when possible.