Keratosis Pilaris: Everything You Need to Know About the Bumps On Your Arms
Are you noticing little bumps on your arms? It’s easy to assume it’s acne-related, but keep in mind that not every bump or red spot is a breakout, especially if you’re finding them somewhere other than your face. Those bumps you notice on your arms could be keratosis pilaris, a common (and harmless) condition. If you think you might have “KP” or “chicken skin”—as it’s often called—keep reading. To start things off, we’re filling you in on what keratosis pilaris is and what can cause it to appear on your skin. We also spoke with one of our board-certified Skincare.com experts to find out whether or not you can get rid of keratosis pilaris for good.
WHAT IS KERATOSIS PILARIS?
According to the Mayo Clinic, keratosis pilaris or “chicken skin” a skin condition that results in dry, rough patches and tiny bumps on the upper arms, thighs, cheeks, and buttocks—which are sometimes mistaken for small pimples. Its texture and appearance have evoked comparisons to chicken skin, thanks to the small, scaly bumps that appear on people’s arms and thighs. While all of the above may sound like it would be uncomfortable, in most cases these bumps don’t hurt or itch.
KP can appear at any age, but according to the Mayo Clinic, it’s more common in young children. To determine whether or not you have KP, all it takes is a trip to the dermatologist. According to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD), there isn’t a fancy test required, but rather just a close examination of the skin by a skin expert, such as a dermatologist.
WHAT CAUSES KERATOSIS PILARIS?
According to the Mayo Clinic, keratosis pilaris can be caused by the buildup of keratin, a hard protein that protects skin. The keratin forms a plug that blocks the opening of the hair follicle. Typically, quite a few plugs will form, which is the reason you’ll experience patches of rough skin, instead of singular bumps.
While no one knows exactly knows why keratin builds up in this way, Skincare.com consultant and ethnic skin expert, Dr. William Kwan, founder of Kwan Dermatology, reveals that KP is a genetic skin condition that is inherited as a dominant gene—just like dark hair. It can also occur in conjunction with other skin conditions, or be exacerbated by dry skin.
HOW CAN YOU MANAGE KERATOSIS PILARIS?
Once a skin expert determines if you have KP, you’ll probably want to find ways to help manage it. Fortunately, there are a myriad of ways to help reduce the appearance of bumps on your skin’s surface. We recommend that you try the following to help minimize the appearance of your KP:
Moisturize regularly. Because KP is related to dry skin, Dr. Kwan recommends moisturizing regularly to help hydrate the skin and make bumps appear more smooth. Look for a moisturizer formulated with lanolin, petroleum jelly, or glycerin and apply while skin is moist from bathing to help trap more moisture on skin’s surface. And don’t settle for moisturizing just once a day, make time to hydrate your skin 2 to 3 times every day.
Use medicated creams. In addition to a regular moisturizer, you can use medicated creams—either something prescribed by your dermatologist or available over the counter—to help address your keratosis pilaris. The Mayo Clinic separates these creams into two categories, those that help remove dead skin cells from skin’s surface and those that help prevent plugged follicles. The former are creams formulated with AHAs, salicylic acid, or urea, while the latter are creams that are derived from vitamin A—i.e. topical retinoids.
Bathe in lukewarm water. Steaming showers and scalding baths won’t do KP any favors. Hot water can actually dry skin out further. To avoid that, shorten your bath time and use water that’s lukewarm.
Avoid manual exfoliation. Dr. Kwan usually cautions against manual exfoliation for his patients with keratosis pilaris, as it can irritate the skin.
Choose gentle cleansers. Pick the wrong cleanser, and it’s all too easy to worsen dry skin. Harsh soaps can zap natural oils that your skin needs, making it all the more important to choose body washes and soaps formulated for sensitive or dry skin.
Use a humidifier. Low humidity is another culprit that can cause dry skin. The Mayo Clinic encourages using a humidifier in your home to add moisture into the air.
Don’t wear overly tight clothing. You may not have guessed your fashion choices could impact your skin condition, but as it turns out, they can. Clothing that’s too tight can cause friction that can aggravate keratosis pilaris.
WHAT SHOULD YOU KEEP IN MIND WHILE ADDRESSING KERATOSIS PILARIS?
Don’t go into it expecting the impossible, keep these facts in mind.
Nothing is instant. To manage expectations, the AAD points out that reducing the appearance of keratosis pilaris takes time. Don’t plan for your skin’s appearance to improve immediately.
Treatment isn’t permanent. No matter which methods you choose to manage your KP, they aren’t permanent solutions. Your skin may temporarily clear up, but the Mayo Clinic reveals that when you stop targeting your keratosis pilaris, the condition can and often will return.