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Understanding Keratosis Pilaris


It can be difficult to keep track of the variety of skin conditions that we can be diagnosed with today. There are temporary skin conditions, including acne, cold sores, contact dermatitis, and sunburn, but more permanent conditions include eczema, psoriasis, and rosacea.

Among the permanent skin conditions is keratosis pilaris, which is commonly referred to as “chicken skin” since its symptoms come in the form of tiny bumps that look like goosebumps. The skin condition is harmless but chronic, and our skin can benefit from a little TLC when it comes to managing its symptoms.

What is keratosis pilaris?

Keratosis pilaris – also known as KP or “chicken skin” – is a chronic skin condition that causes small, painless bumps to appear on the skin around the body’s hair follicles. These bumps are a result of a collection of a protein called keratin. Though they may resemble pimples, KP bumps occur when keratin blocks our pores rather than flaking off.

These bumps most commonly appear on the upper arms and thighs and on cheeks for children and appear in a variety of colors, including brown, red, white, or even the same tone as your skin. Sometimes, the bumps will also appear on the buttocks and on the sides of the torso, too. KP tends to worsen in cold weather and improve as the temperatures increase.

KP is a chronic condition that is most common in babies, toddlers, children, and teenagers, but for many, the bumps go away as individuals get older. It’s estimated that around 50% to 80% of teenagers as well as 40% of adults, will develop the bumps associated with KP at some point in their lives. 

A KP diagnosis comes after a dermatologist examines the skin for signs of the condition. Though it’s not known what causes KP in certain individuals and not others, it is believed that there is a genetic component as well as link to a vitamin A deficiency. Individuals who have family members with KP are more likely to develop the conditions themselves as well. 

What are the symptoms of keratosis pilaris?

The main symptoms of KP are the small bumps that form on the skin where hair follicles are present. Individuals with KP may also experience other symptoms, including dry, rough skin in the same areas where the bumps appear on the skin. If the bumps become irritated, this can lead to frictional lichenoid dermatitis, which causes discoloration and makes them appear more noticeable. 

In some cases, other skin conditions can cause some of these symptoms, including allergies, eczema, fungal infections, and psoriasis.

How can you treat keratosis pilaris?

As KP is a harmless skin condition, there is no specific treatment method or cure, but steps can be taken to help manage the condition’s symptoms. By reducing dryness, itchiness, and the appearance of the bumps, it can lead to clearer skin. Because dry skin can make the bumps appear more prominently, treating dry skin can aid with KP, so it’s important to keep your skin moisturized, use unscented body products, and use cool or lukewarm water for baths and showers. It can also be helpful to gently scrub the skin with a washcloth in the shower and pat your skin dry versus rubbing it after you’re done bathing or showering.

Some dermatologists may suggest treatments that help remove the dead skin cells from the skin as well. This can be done by gently removing dead skin with a loofah, dry brush, or via microdermabrasion, as well as by using at-home exfoliation methods, including lactic acid, which is found in regular, full-fat yogurt. Some dermatologists may also suggest a laser or light treatment to treat KP in an effort to reduce discoloration, redness, and swelling, as well as improve skin texture.

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