Keratosis Pilaris: Everything You Need to Know About the Bumps On Your Arms

July 12, 2022
Margaret Fisher
By: Margaret Fisher | by L'Oréal
Person touching tattooed arm

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. We spoke with one of our 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” is 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, due 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 the 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 why keratin builds up in this way, consultant and board-certified dermatologist 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 to Get Rid of 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. We recommend the La Roche-Posay Lipikar Body Lotion for Normal to Dry Skin, which nourishes the skin with glycerin and shea butter.

Instead of moisturizing just once a day, make time to hydrate your skin two to three times every day.

La Roche-Posay Lipikar Body Lotion for Normal to Dry Skin

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. Forms of manual exfoliation include body scrubs and rough washcloths or sponges.

Instead, opt for a gentle chemical exfoliant once a week, such as the CeraVe Body Wash with Salicylic Acid

CeraVe Body Wash with Salicylic Acid

Choose Gentle Cleansers

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, such as the CeraVe Soothing Body Wash

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.



Photo: Chaunte Vaughn

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