If you’re on Tik Tok or Pinterest you might've seen different videos telling you that the darkened, pitted spots on your legs is Keratosis Pilaris or strawberry skin, but what’s really going on with your skin and how do you fix it?
Recently I got this comment on a body scrub video I made for my YouTube channel:
“The proper term for strawberry legs is KP. It can also occur on your arms and butt, not just your legs.”
And it got me thinking - there’s so many terms to describe skin that looks like this, and people tend to get them confused, which isn’t helpful when trying to treat and fix the right skin issue.
I'm Aaliyah Bella Rose, certified skincare consultant and owner of clean beauty brand, Bellavana Beauty, and today we're going to talk about if KP and strawberry skin are the same thing, how to tell if you have it, and what to do to fix it.
What is KP?
Keratosis pilaris is a dry skin condition involving a build up of a waxy protein substance called keratin that's naturally made by the body and clogs hair follicles that cause raised bumps to appear in clusters on the surface of your skin.
When the skin barrier is working properly, it protects you from external factors, keeping out things like microorganisms, allergens, and bacteria. When the barrier is compromised, you’re more susceptible to transepidermal water loss (TEWL), meaning, the moisture that’s naturally already in your skin can escape, leading to dry, scaly skin. This is part of the reason why those with KP tend to have drier skin or other skin concerns, like eczema, on top of KP.
(Healthy skin barrier vs compromised skin barrier)
When skin cells age, they travel upwards through the many layers and eventually loosen and shed off the surface. This is a natural process called skin cell turnover. When this process becomes compromised, it can lead to blocked pores, dull skin, uneven texture, acne, and other skin concerns.
(Normal skin cell turnover process)
If you’re experiencing keratosis pilaris, your skin is producing excess keratin (a protein that's found naturally in skin) at a faster rate than can be released, and as a result, it accumulates in the follicles with dead cells, causing tiny raised bumps.
KP can show up on skin as red, brown or skin colored bumps. Although quite outdated, terms like "chicken skin" and "strawberry skin" have been used to describe the bumpy and often spotted or dotted appearance.
(Keratosis Pilaris on fairer skin tone with reddish hue)
(Keratosis Pilaris on fairer skin tone)
(Keratosis Pilaris on darker skin tone)
(Keratosis Pilaris on darker skin tone with hyperpigmentation)
Causes of KP
There’s no specific known cause of Keratosis Pilaris, but it’s a genetic skin condition, meaning it’s inherited from one of your parents. KP can be exacerbated by environmental factors, heat/hot water, or by irritating ingredients or products.
(Keratosis Pilaris is believed to be passed down genetically through parents)
How to Identify KP
Here are a few questions you can ask yourself when trying to discern if you may have Keratosis Pilaris. Always consult with your physician if you the condition worsens or is causing you distress.
- Where do you get bumps? KP tends to cluster on the arms, butt, face, and legs.
- When do you get the bumps? KP bumps will always show, but depending on how you're treating them, their appearance may be reduced. Their appearance may be more noticeable if your skin is really dry or exposed to hot water or colder weather.
- What do they look and feel like? KP presents as small, raised bumps found in clusters of dry skin patches. They may be red, brown, white, or skin - colored.
Ingrown hairs are hairs that get trapped under the surface of the skin, causing inflammation and redness. These are preventable, vary in size, may have a whitehead or sebum trapped inside, and typically occur in areas where hair was removed.
Razor bumps are when the hair has grown back on itself and into the skin surface. These are also preventable, vary in size and location, and typically present as red, inflamed areas on the skin. Both are considered types of folliculitis, or hair follicle inflammation.
The difference between these two issues and KP, is that KP occurs in clusters, is not preventable (because it’s genetic), usually is closed or capped, and may or may not be painful, red or inflamed. KP can result in ingrown hairs but the hair can travel through the skin normally as well.
To prevent ingrown hairs/razor bumps:
- use a clean razor
- clean the area prior to shaving
- shave with the hair growth
- shave less often to prevent irritation
(Razor bumps vs ingrown hairs)
(Keratosis Pilaris in comparison to ingrown hairs/razor bumps)
Acne vulgaris is a skin condition that occurs when the pores of your skin become blocked by hair, sebum, bacteria and dead skin cells. The most common areas you may experience acne are your face, chest, shoulders, back, and butt. Acne can be caused by many factors including hormone levels, environmental factors, and even skin/body care products you use.
There are many types of acne, ranging from blackheads, whiteheads, papules, pustules, nodules, and cysts. Whiteheads are the type of acne often confused for KP, but these can be found alone or in patches and they are pus filled, whereas KP is a buildup of keratin and so the bumps are firm to touch. Acne can also become worse over time because of the bacteria infection, whereas KP remains relatively constant, but symptoms (like dryness or redness) may vary.
To prevent body acne:
- change out of dirty, sweaty clothes immediately
- wash your skin after sweating or when dirty
- use products with salicylic acid and AHAs
(Types of acne pimples)
(Keratosis Pilaris in comparison to acne)
Folliculitis means inflammation of the hair follicles. This could be caused by situations like an infection, improper hair removal, blockages from product buildup, skin rubbing, or tight clothing. It can spread to other follicles in the surrounding area if the infection progresses. It may be itchy, tender, red, inflamed, painful, and usually contains pus. There are many types of folliculitis and they can range in size and location, but the key factor is that the follicle has become inflamed from some type of bacteria or buildup.
To prevent folliculitis:
- keep your skin clean
- exfoliate skin to prevent buildup
(Keratosis Pilaris in comparison to folliculitis)
Strawberry Skin (or strawberry legs) is usually referring to the depressed, pitted, dark spots that show up on your legs after shaving.
According to Healthline: the appearance of strawberry legs is due to "hair follicles or enlarged pores that contain trapped oil, bacteria and dead skin. Shaving exposes the hair follicle or clogged pore and air reacts with the oil build - up, oxidizing it and turning it dark in color”.
This is the most common condition that’s confused with KP. While some forms of KP may have a similar appearance, they are slightly different.
KP is a buildup of keratin that produces a firm, raised bump. “Strawberry skin” or “strawberry legs” like the image below appears when removing hair and exposing the clogged pore to air or when the hair is just starting to grow back and it appears as a dark spot. It’s usually localized to the legs or where hair removal occurred, and doesn’t appear anywhere else on the body.
The discoloration may be emotionally distressing for some people. This condition can be fixed and the appearance can be diminished over time with the right products and routine.
To prevent strawberry skin/legs:
- use a clean razor
- clean the area prior to shaving well
- exfoliate the area
- moisturize the area often
("Strawberry Skin"/"Strawberry Legs" on darker skin tone)
("Strawberry Skin"/"Strawberry Legs" on fairer skin tone)
(Keratosis Pilaris on fairer skin tone in comparison to strawberry skin)
(Keratosis Pilaris on darker skin tone in comparison to strawberry skin)
How to Manage Keratosis Pilaris
Keratosis Pilaris can be managed with the right products, ingredients and routine. The most important things to consider are keeping your skin clean, exfoliating, and moisturizing your skin often. Here are some additional things you can do to effectively manage your KP:
- Wash your skin well with gentle, moisturizing cleansers to avoid buildup of dirt and bacteria
- Exfoliate your skin with chemical and physical exfoliants (keratolytics) to loosen and remove dead skin cells (but don't exfoliate every day, limit it to 2 - 3x a week max)
- Moisturize your skin often (morning and night at a minimum) - this keeps your skin from drying out which can exacerbate KP; look for ingredients like shea butter, ceramides, glycerin & hyaluronic acid. Pro Tip: Apply moisturizer on slightly damp skin to lock in hydration.
- Use products with ingredients like urea (moisturizing ingredient), salicylic acid (cleansing & exfoliating ingredient), and lactic/glycolic acid (exfoliating ingredients)
- Don’t pick at your KP bumps or you could cause scarring and infection
- Consistency in your skin/body care is key to help reduce the appearance and symptoms
- Avoid ingredients or products that may cause irritation
- Take lukewarm showers, avoiding hot water, as this can dry out your skin
- Colder weather tends to dry out the skin which can worsen the condition, so make sure to keep skin moisturized during fall & winter
- Wear loose fitting clothing, avoiding tight clothes that may irritate skin
- Don't forget to wear sunscreen to protect the skin & skin barrier to prevent further damage now & in the future
Bellavana Beauty Body Care Routine
Bellavana Beauty's clean body care products are specially formulated for dry skin, so they work well to help reduce the symptoms of Keratosis Pilaris and to prevent strawberry skin. Here's an easy 4 step body care routine you can start today:
Most body washes and soap bars can be really drying and strip the skin of its natural oils, which can cause someone suffering with KP to experience even drier skin. Our Cream Body Washes are made with Shea Butter to moisturize and replenish your skin with the nutrients it needs to stay healthy.
Exfoliation is one of the most important steps in a routine for preventing strawberry legs and managing Keratosis Pilaris. Exfoliating skin with KP will help to reduce the appearance of the bumps by loosening the keratin and built up dead skin cells. Exfoliating is an important step in skin prep for shaving that helps to prevent strawberry legs by removing excess dirt and dead skin and smoothing the surface for a seamless shave.
Chemical exfoliants like Alpha Hydroxy Acids (AHAs) promote cell turnover and break down dead skin cells on the surface so they can be removed more easily, which reveals a brighter, clearer and more youthful complexion.
Physical exfoliants are physical particles, like salt and sugar, that help to manually exfoliate the top layer of skin which provides immediate skin results. Chemical exfoliants, like Alpha Hydroxy Acids (AHAs) work at a cellular level to gently dissolve dead skin to allow new, smooth skin to surface but the results appear over time.
Our AHA Lactic Acid Body Scrubs are made with the benefits of both physical and chemical exfoliants. Sugar and salt crystals are used as the physical exfoliants and they're folded into a base of plant butters and oils that help to moisturize skin. Lactic Acid, a gentle chemical exfoliant, is the key ingredient that's used to help exfoliate at a deeper level and retain moisture in the skin.
Shaving with foaming creams or even your hair conditioner may be drying out your skin more than you think. Shaving is irritating to your skin to begin with, so it's important to use a product that nourishes your skin. Our Skin Illuminator Body Oil is a blend of plant based oils that deeply moisturize skin and provide a layer of protection while shaving which prevents razor bumps, knicks, and ingrown hairs.
Moisturization is key when it comes to managing Keratosis Pilaris and the product you use should include ingredients like hyaluronic acid, shea butter, glycerin, and ceramides to help support a healthy skin barrier. Our Whipped Body Butters have all four of these and other ingredients to nourish and soothe irritated, dry skin.
Other Things to Know if You Have KP
- KP isn’t contagious (meaning it’s not something you can “give” to others) and it’s not something you can transfer from one part of your body to another
- KP can’t be cured - but it can be managed with proper skin/body care routine and treated with the right products and ingredients
- There are different forms of KP, for instance, if you have bumps with redness, this could be keratosis pilaris rubra
- KP often is associated with eczema and itchy skin
- KP can be exacerbated by hot water and colder weather
- KP can appear differently for different people and on different skin tones - fairer skin may show red or white bumps, darker skin may be brown or black bumps
- Visit a dermatologist or skincare professional if your skin conditions become exacerbated or distressing
- KP isn't acne, so some acne medications or products may cause KP to worsen because they are meant to be drying for oily skin
- You're not alone - about 40% of adults are dealing with and managing KP
- You can't scrub the bumps off - being too abrasive or rough with your skin could lead to inflammation or infection of the skin
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- Top 8 Tips for Winter Skincare
- Benefits of Body Exfoliation
- Keratosis Pilaris: What it is & How to Treat It