Keratosis Pilaris: Everything You Need to Know

With breakouts possible virtually anywhere you have hair follicles (fun fact, you’re covered in hair follicles, yay), we’re always on the lookout for the best treatments to soothe the follicles. 

But what if the bumps we’re trying to calm aren’t your typical acne comedones? 

If you happen to be experiencing areas of little, rough bumps that look more like red goosebumps than zits, chances are you’re dealing with keratosis pilaris -- a harmless skin condition caused by a buildup of keratin in the hair follicle.


What Exactly is Keratosis Pilaris?

According to the pros at the National Institutes of Health, keratosis pilaris is most common during childhood. Visually, it presents itself in the form of papules, which are small, rough, raised lesions. 

Keratosis pilaris is characterized by tiny red, tan, or flesh-colored bumps that typically appear on the outer surface of the upper thighs and arms, although it is possible to occur elsewhere on the body. The condition is typically more intense during the colder months of the winter (when the skin tends to dry out) and often clears up in the summer. It may also heighten during pregnancy

Keratosis pilaris, AKA chicken skin, is medically harmless and is common in otherwise healthy people. 


Symptoms of Keratosis Pilaris

The most notable symptom of this harmless condition is its appearance. The visible tiny bumps appearing on the skin resemble that of goosebumps or the skin of a plucked chicken, hence the name chicken skin.

These harmless bumps can appear anywhere on the skin where hair follicles exist, so you’ll never have an outbreak on the soles of your feet or the palms of your hands. 

Other than commonly being found on the upper arms and thighs, some of the other symptoms associated with it include:

  • Itchy, irritable skin

  • Slight pinkness or redness around bumps

  • Bumps that feel similar to rough sandpaper

  • Dry skin

  • Bumps that can appear in various colors depending on your skin tone 

This rather harmless skin condition is the result of a buildup of keratin in the pores. Keratin is a hair protein. 

If you happen to have chicken skin, the keratin of your body hair gets clogged in the pores, blocking the opening of growing hair follicles. As a result, a tiny bump forms over where a hair should be. If you were to pick at this bump, you might notice a small hair emerging. 

The exact cause of this common skin condition is unknown, but experts have a hunch and think it might be associated with skin conditions like atopic dermatitis and genetic diseases. 


Causes of Keratosis Pilaris

Keratosis pilaris is most common in individuals with:

  • Dry skin

  • Eczema

  • Hay fever

  • Ichthyosis

  • Obesity

  • Celtic ancestry

  • Kids and teens

Anyone can be susceptible to chicken skin, but it’s most common in the kiddos, often starting in late infancy or during early adolescence. It typically clears up in the mid-twenties, with most cases completely kicking the bucket by the time you're thirty. 

Keratosis pilaris is not contagious by any means. People don’t give it to someone else through skin contact and don’t catch it from anyone else. Some people are just more prone to developing chicken skin because of genetics and skin type. It happens.


How to Manage Keratosis Pilaris

We totally get it. You’ve got these tiny bumps all over your arms or thighs, and you want them gone, but there is no known cure for chicken skin, as it tends to clear up on its own with age. 

There are, however, some treatments you can try to alleviate the look and feel of it, but the truth is that keratosis pilaris is typically treatment-resistant and improvement may take months, if the condition improves at all. Regardless, you’ll learn more about your body, which is so much fun.

Dermatological Treatments

A doctor who specializes in skin, otherwise known as a dermatologist, may suggest a moisturizing treatment to help soothe your dry, itchy skin. Many over-the-counter (OTC) and prescription topical creams can remove dead skin cells or prevent hair follicles from being blocked.

Two common ingredients found in moisturizing treatments that your doctor can provide you are lactic acid and urea. 

Together, these powerful ingredients help to loosen and remove dead skin cells while softening the skin. Other treatment methods your dermatologist may recommend include:

  • Chemical peels

  • Retinol creams

  • Microdermabrasion

Always be wary of the ingredients in these creams though, and chat with your primary care provider before using them. Some prescription-strength topical creams include acids that may cause some unwanted side effects, such as stinging, redness, dryness, and irritation.

There are also some experimental treatment options available for chicken skin, such as vascular laser treatment and photo pneumatic, but again, these are experimental, so proceed with caution. 

Keratosis Pilaris Remedies At Home

There are some tips and tricks you can try to treat this skin condition at home. Again, the condition itself can’t be cured, but top-notch self-care treatments can help to minimize itching, bumps, and irritation.

Gently exfoliate. Treat yourself. 

The key to removing dead skin and unplugging the clogged hair follicles is to gently exfoliate without irritating your skin further. Many people make the mistake of trying to literally scrub the bumps off their skin or using an extra-rough loofah to exfoliate the bumps away. 

Although this technique will work temporarily by dislodging the keratin plugs, rough exfoliation will inflame and irritate your skin more, ultimately causing increasing redness and making the condition even more noticeable. Not exactly what you want, right?

While physical exfoliators can often be too abrasive on chicken skin, there are some specially formulated finely-milled body scrubs on the market that can help. There are also amazing products like the ones found right here at Topicals, which contain anti-inflammatory properties to soothe angry skin, remove dead skin cells, and help the skin to lock in moisture to make your skin feel Like Butter.

Dry brushing.

Dry brushing works because it helps to unclog pores and remove dead skin cells. How do you dry brush? Simple. Use a natural bristle brush and move it in gentle, long sweeping motions, brushing each area of your body. Make sure to do this before you hop in the shower — it’s called dry brushing, not wet brushing!

The point of dry brushing is to gently remove the dead skin and unclog the plugged hair follicles. Once you’re done, you can then hop in the shower as usual and pat your skin dry. It’s pretty chill. 

Use mild skincare products.

Using natural, non-toxic skincare products is of the utmost importance when soothing your itchy chicken skin. Harsh chemicals can cause even more redness and buildup, so it’s best to stick with science-backed, dermatologist-approved skincare products.

Moisturize daily. You deserve it.

It is crucial that you moisturize your skin daily with natural, non-irritating products. When combined with gentle exfoliating, applying a natural moisturizer to the affected areas will help reduce inflammation and replenish hydration, leaving your skin oh-so-soft and dewy. 

Use a humidifier.

Since chicken skin symptoms tend to pick up during the winter since your skin is typically drier, using a humidifier can help to reduce skin redness and patchiness. It’s the low humidity that can easily dry out your skin. So, adding a little bit of extra moisture to the air inside your home can help to relieve relentless symptoms. 


Bottom Line

Keratosis pilaris is a common skin condition that affects 40 percent of adults and 50 to 80 percent of adolescents. It is the formation of rough-feeling bumps on the surface of the skin that are caused by clogged hair follicles. 

This common skin condition is quite harmless. Thankfully, by following a great skincare routine, keeping keratosis pilaris symptoms at bay is easier than ever. 

Use science-backed and dermatologist-approved skincare products like the ones found at Topicals that steer clear of harsh chemicals to help soothe irritated and itchy skin. 

Medicated botanicals made for you, scientifically-proven ingredients, formulated by experts, and made for every shade. Give Topicals a try today and see the difference it can make for moisture-thirsty skin!