They’re not pimples, so what the heck are those small bumps on my face? If this is a question you’ve asked yourself while getting up close and personal with your pores in a magnifying mirror, you’re not alone. Having small bumps on your face is pretty common. In most cases, Dr. Morgan Rabach, board-certified dermatologist and co-founder of LM Medical in NYC, says small bumps are benign and nothing to stress about.
However it is always a good idea to go see a dermatologist whenever a new bump shows up or an old one changes, itches, burns, or bleeds because there is that chance that it can be cancerous. But, because we are curious (read: hypochondriacal) humans who have a tendency to self-diagnose, we asked a couple of derms to share the common types of tiny face bumps, what they mean, and how to treat them. If after reading through you’re still not sure what species the small bumps on your face are and what to do about them, book an appointment with a dermatologist asap.
Common types of small bumps on face and how to treat
Dermatologist Sandra Lee, aka Dr. Pimple Popper, says whiteheads are one of the most common types of face bumps people have. “Whiteheads, which are also known as closed comedones, occur when dead skin, dirt, bacteria, and oil mix and form a clogged pore appearing as a white bump on the surface of the skin,” she says. “These are similar to a blackhead, but they have a thin layer of skin covering the opening, making them appear as a white or skin colored bump.” As whiteheads are a type of non-inflammatory acne, she adds that they’re usually caused by beauty products that are clogging your pores, excess sweat, or hormonal changes.
If it’s a whitehead: Use salicylic acid
Lee’s favorite way to treat whiteheads is with salicylic acid. “This beta hydroxy acid is a great exfoliator and is able to crystallize and settle deep into pores to clear away debris, improve current whiteheads, and prevent future ones,” she says.
“Milia is a dermatological term for very small, superficial cysts that form just underneath the skin, most commonly around the eyes, which is the thinnest skin we have on the body,” Lee says. Dr. Rabach adds that anyone can get them, even if you don’t have acne prone skin, and especially if you’re using products that contain oil. According to Lee, using occulsive products such as cleansers with small abrasive beads and procedures like chemical peels and laser resurfacing can also promote the development of milia.
If it’s milia: Use a topical retinoid
If you have an inkling that the tiny bumps on your face are milia, Lee advices not trying to get rid of them on your own as tempting as it may be. “These little cysts are under a layer of skin that is thicker than that of a whitehead and you can really risk infection and scarring if you try to remove them yourself,” she says. The easiest thing to do is just let them go away on their own, although it can take a few months. But if you’re impatient and want clear skin like yesterday, she suggests using a topical retinoid to help speed up the skin turnover process and more quickly banish the bump. Dr. Rabach also suggests laying off facial oils if milia is something you struggle with. Swap it out for an oil-free moisturizer instead.
“Keratosis pilaris related bumps appear when excess amounts of keratin (the protein that protects our skin) build up and form small, rough bumps on the skin that may feel like sandpaper or chicken skin,” Lee says. “Keratosis Pilaris is common on the back of arms or legs, but some people may experience it on their face as well.” These type of bumps, she adds, tend to be genetic and common among folks with dry skin types due to the accumulation of dead skin.
If it’s Keratosis pilaris: Exfoliate and moisturize your skin
The key to treating keratosis pilaris, Lee says, is to keep your skin exfoliated and moisturized. “Try using AHAs (alpha hydroxy acids) and BHAs (beta hydroxy acids) such as glycolic acid and salicylic acid, and a good, non-comedogenic moisturizer,” she says.
If it’s any of the above:
To prevent the small bumps on your face from forming in the first place, Dr. Rabach recommends slathering on sunscreen every day. Look for one with at least SPF 30 and that contains titanium or zinc. “These ingredients physically block sunlight from going into the cell,” she says.
Find a skincare routine that works for your skin
Key numero dos for preventing the tiny bumps, Lee says, is to find a skincare routine that your skin loves and stick to it. “A consistent skincare routine that works for your skin type is vital to not only correct issues like these, but keep them from reappearing,” she says.
See a professional and get them removed
And last but not least, if you just want to get rid of the small bumps stat, go see a dermatologist. “Many times, these bumps can be easily and quickly removed, and in some cases biopsied, which means we take the little sample of skin and test it in a laboratory where another doctor looks under the microscope to check for dangerous cells,” Dr. Rabach says.
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