You may not have heard of keratosis pilaris before, but chances are you’d recognise it if you saw it. Colloquially known as ‘chicken-skin’ because it resembles the bumps of a plucked chicken, this common dry skin condition usually shows up as tiny bumps up the back of the upper arm.1 ‘Keratosis pilaris’ is a bit of a mouthful, so let’s just call it KP from here on in. While KP is completely benign and won’t cause you any harm, it’s hard not to sometimes feel self-conscious with bumps on your skin, so read on to get the facts.
What causes keratosis pilaris?
KP is caused by the build-up of keratin, the structural protein in skin, which collects in the hair follicles, forming a hard plug.2 The bumps aren’t usually itchy, but can be slightly red or slightly brown.1 KP affects up to half of all children, mostly appearing during teenage years, and sometimes persisting into adulthood.1 It is more common in people affected by other dry skin conditions, like ichthyosis vulgaris or eczema,1 and usually affects the upper arms, but can also be present on the thighs, buttocks or face.1,3 Since it’s a genetic condition, it can’t be cured, but KP often improves on its own.3
What to do about keratosis pilaris
Let’s start with what not to do. KP is often mistaken for a type of acne, but acne treatments won’t help you here. Even standard moisturisers, usually a staple in the management of dry skin conditions, haven’t been shown to help. Avoiding soap can be helpful, since soap can exacerbate dry skin.1 And while some people swear off sugar, eggs or dairy to try to improve the condition, there’s no clear evidence that diet plays a role. One important step in managing keratosis pilaris is regular exfoliation, for example through gentle rubbing with a pumice stone or loofah. Be careful not to be harsh with your skin, though, as aggressive scrubbing can lead to inflammation and discomfort. The same goes for picking at your skin. Don’t do it! Alternatively, try using a product that contains an exfoliating agent. Alpha-hydroxy acids (AHAs) help to weaken the adhesions between dead, dry cells, allowing them to be removed more easily.4 A great option for the arms or body is Elucent Anti-Ageing Body Moisturiser, a light body lotion containing 12% AHAs that gently exfoliates, helping to improve the skin’s texture and appearance. For the face, try Elucent Anti-Ageing Gentle Cleanser with 2% AHAs.
Love your skin unconditionally
As we’ve said, keratosis pilaris has no cure and there’s no treatment that’s universally effective. But that’s no reason to swelter away all summer long in a long-sleeve shirt, and instead remember just how amazing your skin is, helping to protect you everyday, and learn to love your skin unconditionally.
1. Oakley A. Keratosis pilaris | DermNet New Zealand [Internet]. 2015 [cited 2018 Jul 30]. Available from: https://www.dermnetnz.org/topics/keratosis-pilaris/
2. Judge MR, McLean WHI, Munro CS. Disorders of Keratinization. In: Burns T, Breathnach S, Cox N, Griffiths C, editors. Rook’s Textbook of Dermatology. Oxford, UK: Wiley-Blackwell; 2010. p. 72-74.
3. Oranje AP, Van Gysel D. Keratosis Pilaris. In: Irvine A, Hoeger P, Yan A, editors. Harper’s Textbook of Pediatric Dermatology. 3rd ed. Blackwell Publishing Ltd; 2011. (Wiley Online Books).
4. Ramos-e-Silva M, Hexsel DM, Rutowitsch MS, Zechmeister M. Hydroxy acids and retinoids in cosmetics. Clinics in Dermatology. 2001 Jul;19(4):460–6.