Keratosis Pilaris: What It Is and How You Can Treat It

Keratosis pilaris (pronounced ker-uh-toe-sis pih-lair-is), KP, or "chicken skin" is a common, harmless skin condition that causes dry, rough patches and tiny bumps in areas such as the upper arms, cheeks, thighs, or bum. The tiny bumps can appear pink or red but don't usually hurt or itch.

Keratosis pilaris can affect anyone. Estimates show that this skin condition affects nearly 40 percent of adults and about 50 percent of all adolescents. Despite the fact this skin condition is completely harmless and extremely common, we understand that it can be frustrating to deal with (even if you don't know much about it). If you are one of the millions of people with KP, we've written this post to help share information, tips, and product recommendations that are scientifically backed and self-care approved.


Causes of Keratosis Pilaris

Keratosis pilaris is caused by the buildup of keratin beneath the skin. Keratin, the hard protein that protects skin from harmful substances and infection, blocks the opening of hair follicles and causes those patches of rough, bumpy skin associated with KP. It's not entirely clear what causes keratosis pilaris in some individuals and not others, but scientists and dermatologists have some ideas.

One likely cause of KP is that the skin cells in those areas aren't turning over properly, resulting in blocked hair follicles and bumpy skin. Researchers also suggest that many of the causes of KP have genetic roots, so the skin condition is likely something you inherited. This is especially true if there is a history of eczema in your family since those with eczema are more likely to have keratosis pilaris. But this isn't always the case, and scientists aren't sure why some experience KP and others don't.

KP is also largely associated with dry skin and could be made worse if you use ingredients on your skin, such as harsh soaps, scrubs, and irritating fragrances that are too much for your delicate skin to handle. Cold, dry weather outside and hot, dry indoor climates (like hot showers and indoor heating) can also exacerbate the dryness, redness, and bumpiness of KP.


How to Know if You Have Keratosis Pilaris

The easiest way to know if you have keratosis pilaris is by evaluating its visible symptoms and matching them to your own. The most notable symptom of KP is the small bumps that appear on the skin where hair follicles exist (so it won't be found on the palms of your hands or the soles of your feet).  The upper arms and thighs are the most common places for KP to occur.

Other symptoms of keratosis pilaris include:

  • Slight pinkness or redness around the bumps caused by inflammation
  • Itchy, irritable skin
  • Dry skin
  • The texture of the bumps feels coarse like sandpaper
  • The bumps can appear in different colors depending on skin tone (flesh-colored, white, red, pink, brown, or black)

If you're unsure about whether or not you have KP, visiting a board-certified dermatologist can be extremely helpful for guiding you in the right direction and getting you clear on what's going on with your skin. It's always important to get the correct diagnosis so you can avoid worsening the condition.


Treating KP At Home

There's good news and not-so-great news. The not-so-great news is that keratosis pilaris is a persistent skin condition that doesn't have a magic cure. But the good news is that there are (easy) ways you can help treat your KP and prevent it from flaring up.

1. The Magic Combo of Hydration and Exfoliation

Proper exfoliation and moisturization can do wonders for those with KP, but the emphasis here is on proper. A huge mistake that people with KP often make is trying to scrub the bumps away with rough techniques and loofahs. Too rough of exfoliation will cause inflammation, increased redness and ultimately make the condition appear worse.

If you have KP, exfoliating with chemical exfoliants such as AHAs, BHAs, or PHAs is likely your best bet to avoid irritation and help dissolve the keratin plugs at the source. But if you love using a body scrub, you still can use one that is moisturizing and non-abrasive, like our sugar-based body scrubs. Because they are formulated with natural humectants to help your skin retain moisture, and the microcrystals are ultrafine, you can gently use this once or twice a week to help your KP. After using a body scrub, always moisturize immediately after while your skin is still damp.

Keeping skin moisturized is a must with KP. Opting for a fragrance-free moisturizer with nourishing ingredients like shea butter, vitamin E, and glycerin will offer the skin long-term hydration—even for those with dry, sensitive skin.


2. Embrace Summer

Like we mentioned earlier, the dryness of winter can make keratosis pilaris worsen and become even more apparent. But the opposite is true in summer. Because the higher humidity levels and warmer temperatures are believed to help with KP, you'll find that your symptoms are less severe in the summer months or warmer climates.

Of course, even though the heat and sunlight are great for controlling KP, never skip your sunscreen! Wearing a broad-spectrum SPF of 30 or higher will protect your skin against future damage, cancer, and premature aging.


3. Stick with Your Skincare Routine

Dealing with keratosis pilaris isn't always easy, but sticking with a skin and body care routine that makes you feel and look your best (while addressing the visible signs of KP) can help tremendously. Remember to be kind to your skin and love yourself wholly. And when in doubt, stick to that magic combo of gentle exfoliation and moisturization because it won't steer you wrong.

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