What are these white spots around my eyes?

Originally Published: April 18, 2003 - Last Updated / Reviewed On: February 1, 2013
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Dear Alice!,

I always have at least one or two white spots on my eyelids. They don't hurt, but people do stare at them. They eventually fall off and reappear in other places. I've been told they are calcium deposits and/or sweat bumbs. Help me out with a treatment and let me know if they are connected to any disease.

Thanks!

Dear Reader,

What you describe could be a condition called milia, tiny cysts or whiteheads filled with a protein material that can appear on the face and eyelids. You may want to see a healthcare provider so that s/he can diagnose the white spots as milia or something else. Experts recommend that you see a dermatologist or primary care provider when you notice new bumps or spots on your skin so that a more serious condition or disease can be ruled out. A dermatologist can also recommend ways to prevent milia from coming back.

Milia are common (especially in babies) and can reoccur in some people. Sometimes they develop in areas of the skin that have been damaged, due to burns (including severe sunburn), radiation therapy, blistering skin conditions, heavy use of steroid creams, rashes, dermabrasion or other skin problems or procedures. They aren't known to be a sign of any serious underlying disease, though it may be worth working with a healthcare provider to find out what’s causing your milia to keep coming back after they fall off.

If the spots are in fact milia and they aren't bothering you, then they can usually just be left alone. Most will disappear in time. It is also possible that your health care provider or a dermatologist may suggest their removal. Milia can be removed several ways including by extracting the cyst material using special tools, using a topical retinoid cream medication, using a series of acid peels, or microdermabrasion. Your provider will talk to you about which removal technique is best for you. However tempting, it's best to avoid picking at the milia or trying to remove them yourself, because doing that may cause them to become infected and cause scarring.

If you want people to stop staring or if you just want to know for sure what those white spots are, you may want to make an appointment with a dermatologist or primary care provider. Columbia students on the Morningside campus can make an appointment with Medical Services using Open Communicator. Columbia students at the Medical Center can make an appointment with Student Health.

Take care,

Alice