8 reasons you may have little bumps on your face

Get to the bottom of what's causing those little bumps on your complexion.

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Curology Team
May 23, 2022 · 6 min read

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We’re here to share what we know — but don’t take it as medical advice. Talk to your medical provider if you have questions.
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Have you ever had a bump on your face that’s not a pimple? If so, this article is for you. If you’ve ruled out forehead acne as an explanation for the small bumps on the forehead, you might feel rightfully confused about what exactly they are. When it comes to skin bumps, many different conditions exist, but sometimes it can be difficult to know just what is going on with your skin. But never fear; your skincare experts are here to help.

There are various reasons for having small skin bumps or spots on your face that aren’t acne. But first things first: no matter the cause, we want you to know you’re not alone. Skin bumps are a concern for many people, and these eight common skin conditions can cause them.

1. Keratosis pilaris

Keratosis pilaris is a harmless skin condition that occurs when a buildup of keratin blocks a hair follicle.¹ While these small, harmless bumps can appear in many different body areas, most people notice them on the back of their upper arms.²

Symptoms of keratosis pilaris can include:³

  • Rough or dry skin

  • Small bumps that resemble goosebumps

  • Itchiness

  • Red or skin-colored bumps

Treatment

Keratosis pilaris is considered harmless, which means you only need to treat it if the bumps cause you discomfort. If that’s the case, a moisturizing cream that contains urea or lactic acid may help soothe dryness and smooth the skin.⁴ Additionally, salicylic acid or a prescription retinoid may help as well.⁵

2. Acne vulgaris

Acne vulgaris is a very common skin condition that many people experience at some point in their lives. It often consists of a variety of pimples, including comedones and inflammatory lesions.⁶

Symptoms of acne vulgaris can include a mix of several different types of acne:⁷

  • Whiteheads, or closed comedones with a white head (hence the name)

  • Blackheads, or open comedones filled with oil and dead skin cells and open to the air

  • Papules, or red bumps that don’t contain fluid

  • Pustules, or pus-filled bumps with a white head possibly surrounded by a red ring

  • Cysts, or large pus-filled pimples that may cause scarring

  • Nodules, or hard bumps on the face that won’t pop, sometimes called blind pimples

Treatment

Many different treatments for acne vulgaris exist, including:

  • Benzoyl peroxide⁸ is available over the counter either as a face cleanser or spot treatment.

  • Salicylic acid is also available over the counter and is often found in face washes.⁹ It’s also available in Curology’s acne body wash.

  • Retinoids, both prescription and over-the-counter. This includes tretinoin, which is available in some Curology formulas.

  • Oral antibiotics are often prescribed by a medical provider to treat more severe acne.

  • Topical antibiotics such as clindamycin, are also prescribable by a medical provider. Good news: Clindamycin is available in some Curology formulas!

3. Acne mechanica

Similar in appearance to acne vulgaris, acne mechanica can appear due to friction, pressure, or rubbing on the skin.¹⁰ Anyone can experience an acne mechanica breakout, but it’s common for active people who wear uniforms like athletes or soldiers.

Acne Mechanica Definition Cause Treatment Options

Symptoms of acne mechanica can include:¹¹

  • Small, rough bumps

  • Acne where you have something that is persistently rubbing

Acne Mechanica on Forehead Temple

Treatment

Place soft padding between your skin and the item causing friction (such as a face mask). Or, if possible, identify the object—clothing or work or athletic equipment—that’s causing friction and stop using it. Wearing it as loosely as possible can also help. You can also use topical acne medication (like your Curology Custom Formula) to help treat acne mechanica.

4. Acne cosmetica

Acne cosmetica occurs when pore-clogging ingredients in makeup and other products clog your pores, leading to breakouts.¹²

Symptoms of acne cosmetica can include:  

  • Small bumps on the forehead, cheeks, or chin¹³

milia-symptoms-face
  • Skin that feels rough to the touch

  • Many comedones (usually non-inflammatory)

Treatment

The easiest way to treat acne cosmetica is to prevent it from occurring in the first place to the best of your ability. You can do this by wearing non-comedogenic makeup to help keep your pores from becoming clogged. We also recommend removing your makeup at night to keep your pores clear and using topical acne treatments to help eliminate breakouts.

5. Fungal acne

Unlike acne vulgaris, which often involves the bacteria C. acnes, fungal acne is caused by an overgrowth of yeast (malassezia) that normally lives on our skin.¹⁴

Symptoms of fungal acne can include:

  • Itchiness

  • Regular acne treatments don’t seem to help

  • Small uniform acne bumps on areas like the forehead, hairline, and chest

Treatment

To treat fungal acne, medical providers may prescribe an oral antifungal medication.¹⁵ However, it is important to figure out what triggers your fungal acne flare in order to help control it. Hot, humid environments, excessive sweating, or even various topical products like makeup or lotions may be triggers. Sometimes, trying a gentle zinc soap before resorting to a stronger treatment may just do the trick.

6. Milia

What do milia look like? Milia are minuscule white bumps that are also known as keratinous cysts.¹⁶ They occur when tiny skin flakes become trapped in pockets near the skin’s surface. While harmless, there are several types of milia you can experience. Babies are more likely to develop milia, but they can also occur in adults.¹⁷

Symptoms of milia can include: 

  • Tiny white bumps around the eyes, forehead, and cheeks¹⁸

Treatment

Retinoids such as tretinoin¹⁹ are one of the treatments often used for milia.

7. Rosacea

If you have rosacea, you may notice acne-like bumps (papules or pustules) that appear along with the redness typically associated with rosacea.²⁰

Symptoms of rosacea can include:

  • Small acne-like lesions

  • Burning or stinging

  • Raised patches of skin

  • Visible blood vessels 

Treatment

Several methods for treating rosacea exist,²¹ including: 

  • Azelaic acid. A topical medication that can help improve redness.

  • Metronidazole. A long-time medication for acne-like breakouts and redness associated with rosacea. 

  • Ivermectin. An anti-parasitic and anti-inflammatory medication that is used to treat certain symptoms of rosacea. 

  • Sulfur. An over-the-counter option that you can find in face washes or soap.

  • Retinoids may also be used to help prevent rosacea flare-ups, although more research is still needed.

8. Ingrown hairs

An ingrown hair develops when a hair does not properly grow out of the skin or grows back into the skin.²²

Symptoms of ingrown hairs can include:

  • May produce scarring 

  • Hyperpigmentation

  • Itchiness

Treatment

Ingrown hairs often go away on their own without treatment, but there are a few ways you can help prevent them from occurring:²³

  • Wash your skin before shaving

  • Use a sharp razor when shaving

  • Shave toward the hair follicle, not against it

  • Rinse your razor regularly

When is it time to see a doctor?

When dealing with a skin condition that you’re particularly concerned about, it never hurts to make an appointment with your medical provider. If you notice some mysterious bumps on your face, don’t panic—they’re most likely harmless and easily treatable, but you’ll want to get a medical professional’s opinion just in case.

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Personalized skincare with Curology

At Curology, we’re all about helping you along your skincare journey by informing and guiding you with knowledge. Doing your own research (like you are now) is always a good idea, but if you want to take the hard work out of your skincare routine, we’re here to help you with the heavy lifting. With Curology, you get personalized skincare designed by dermatologists and simple routines to help you address your skincare concerns by providing products created with research-backed ingredients.

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FAQs

When is it time to see a doctor?

When dealing with a skin condition that you’re particularly concerned about, it never hurts to make an appointment with your medical provider. If you notice some mysterious bumps on your face, don’t panic—they’re most likely harmless and easily treatable, but you’ll want to get a medical professional’s opinion just in case.

• • •

P.S. We did the research so you don’t have to:

1. Mayo Clinic. Keratosis pilaris: Symptoms and causes. ( 2021 January 30).

2. American Academy of Dermatology. Keratosis Pilaris; who gets and causes. (n,d,).

3. Hwang S. Schwartz R. Keratosis Pilaris: A Common Follicular Hyperkeratosis. Pediatric Dermatology. (2007, October 3).

4. American Academy of Dermatology. Keratosis pilaris: Treatment. (n.d.).

5. Hwang S. Schwartz R. Keratosis Pilaris: A Common Follicular Hyperkeratosis. Ibid.

6. Linka K. Oge, et al. Acne Vulgaris: Diagnosis and Treatment. American Family Physician. (2019 October 15).

7. Cleveland Clinic. Acne.( 2020, September 1).

8. Zaenglein, A. L., et al. Guidelines of care for the management of acne vulgaris. Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology. (2016).

9. Jacqueline Woodruff, et al.  A double-blind, placebo-controlled evaluation of a 2% salicylic acid cleanser for improvement of acne vulgaris.(2013, April 1)

10. Mills, O H Jr, and A Kligman. Acne mechanica.Archives of dermatology (1975, n.d.).

11. American Academy of Dermatology. Is sports equipment causing your acne? (n.d.).

12. Maarouf M. et al. Myths, Truths, and Clinical Relevance of Comedogenicity Product Labeling. JAMA Dermatology. (October 2018).

13. American Academy of Dermatology. I have acne! Is it okay to wear makeup? Ibid.

14. Rubenstein, R. M., & Malerich, S. A. Malassezia (pityrosporum) folliculitis.The Journal of clinical and aesthetic dermatology. (March 2014).

15. Rubenstein, R. M., & Malerich, S. A. Malassezia (pityrosporum) folliculitis.The Journal of clinical and aesthetic dermatology. Ibid.

16. Berk D. and Bayliss S. Milia: A review and classification. Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology. (2008 September 26).

17. Cleveland Clinic. Milia. (2018, October 22).

18. Berk D. and Bayliss S. Milia: A review and classification. Ibid.

19. Hilary E. Baldwin, et al. 40 Years of Topical Tretinoin Use in Review. Journal of Drugs in Dermatology. (June 2013).

20. Gallo, R. L., et al. Standard classification and pathophysiology of rosacea: The 2017 update by the National Rosacea Society Expert Committee. Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology. ( January 2018).

21. Thiboutot, D., et al. Standard management options for rosacea: The 2019 update by the National Rosacea Society Expert Committee. Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology. (2020).

22. Panchaprateep R., et al. Clinical, dermoscopic, and histopathologic features of body hair disorders. Journal of the American Acadmey of Dermatology. (March 2015).

23. Mayo Clinic Staff. Ingrown Hair. Ibid.

We’re here to tell you what we know. That’s why our information is evidence-based and fact-checked by medical experts. Still, everyone’s skin is unique—the best way to get advice is to talk to your healthcare provider.

* Subject to consultation. Subscription is required. Results may vary.

• • •
Our medical review process:We’re here to tell you what we know. That’s why our information is evidence-based and fact-checked by medical experts. Still, everyone’s skin is unique—the best way to get advice is to talk to your healthcare provider.
Curology Team Avatar

Curology Team

Nicole Hangsterfer Avatar

Nicole Hangsterfer, PA-C

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