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Overview

Keratosis pilaris (also known as KP) is a common rough and bumpy skin condition most often seen in children and teenagers. It usually appears on the skin as tiny, painless bumps that resemble goose flesh around the upper arms, thighs, buttocks, or cheeks. While keratosis pilaris is harmless and tends to gradually disappear with age, it can still be an ongoing cosmetic concern. For many people, the look of “chicken skin” may result in feelings of self-consciousness when wearing sleeveless tops or shorts. Keratosis pilaris cannot be cured or prevented, but topical creams, lotions, and cleansers could help enhance the skin’s appearance.

Keratosis Pilaris Basics:

  • Keratosis pilaris is a common skin condition that can occur at various stages of life in adults, children, and adolescents.
  • Although keratosis pilaris causes patches of rough, bumpy skin, it is generally harmless and painless.
  • This skin condition is often referred to as “chicken skin” or “strawberry skin” due to its goose bump-like appearance.
  • Keratosis pilaris is most commonly found on the backs of the upper arms, as well as the thighs, cheeks, and buttocks.
  • These bumps are sometimes surrounded by red, scaly skin that can become itchy and more noticeable on dry skin.
  • Certain topical products may help improve the appearance of keratosis pilaris.

What Is Keratosis Pilaris?

If you struggle with the tiny red bumps associated with keratosis pilaris, you’re certainly not alone. Approximately 40% of adults and 50 to 80% of adolescents will develop this skin condition at some point throughout their lives.1 Keratosis pilaris is categorized as areas of rough and bumpy skin that occur when a build-up of dead skin cells clogs the opening of the hair follicles. These clogged hair follicles result in a sandpaper-like texture and patches of rough, sometimes discolored skin, with groups of painless, pimple-like bumps. Keratosis pilaris bumps are considered benign and are not contagious.

 

What Does Keratosis Pilaris Look Like?

The main feature of keratosis pilaris is the bumpy “chicken skin” that appears on the upper arms, or on the thighs, cheeks, and buttocks. These bumps can be skin-colored, red, brown, or white in appearance, and can sometimes be surrounded by red, scaly skin.

 

People with keratosis pilaris will also often notice that the condition is worse during the winter months, or whenever skin is most prone to dryness. Keratosis pilaris bumps do not typically cause any discomfort (such as itchiness) unless they are influenced by other skin conditions. Since signs of keratosis pilaris are sometimes confused with similar skin conditions, like psoriasis or eczema, it’s usually recommended to consult with a dermatologist if you are experiencing any of these symptoms.

 

Common Causes of Keratosis Pilaris

Rough and bumpy skin texture is often caused by a build-up of dead skin cells that eventually clog up your pores (also known as hair follicles). In the case of keratosis pilaris, dry patches and pimple-like bumps are caused by a build-up of the skin protein known as keratin. When this happens, the opening of the hair follicle becomes blocked, and these “plugs” can lead to areas of uneven skin texture.

 

It’s not yet clear why certain people are more predisposed to this keratin build-up than others, but many dermatologists believe that these bumps may be genetic. For teenagers, it’s also possible for hormones to spark keratosis pilaris flare-ups around the time of puberty. Most cases of keratosis pilaris will clear up on their own with age.

 

Who Is Most Likely To Have Keratosis Pilaris?

Although keratosis pilaris is usually seen in babies, children, and adolescents going through puberty, it also frequently affects adults in particular categories. For example, if you have eczema—a skin condition that usually appears as a red, itchy rash with blisters—you may be more likely to experience keratosis pilaris. Women may also be slightly more likely to have this condition, as well as anyone with a family history of allergies and asthma.

 

Other possible factors that may increase the likelihood of keratosis pilaris include a higher body weight, as well as very fair or light skin. With that being said, it is still possible for keratosis pilaris to affect skin of any age, gender, or race.

 

Who Can Diagnose Keratosis Pilaris?

Keratosis pilaris should always be diagnosed by a dermatologist or medical professional who can accurately assess your symptoms. Your doctor will likely perform a physical examination of the affected area, and discuss the main concerns surrounding your symptoms. Additional points of discussion may also include your medical history, family history, and any possible skin conditions or environmental facts that may be behind your keratosis pilaris. If your dermatologist requires additional information for a proper diagnosis, they may request a follow-up visit for additional testing.

When it comes to diagnosing keratosis pilaris, the location and appearance of the bumps may also play an important role. Since these bumps characteristically appear on certain parts of the body—especially the upper arms—the location may help your dermatologist decide if your skin concerns are indeed keratosis pilaris. If the bumps are rough to the touch, painless, and dry, those may also be other key indicators.

 

What Treatment Options Exist for Keratosis Pilaris?

Since dry skin can aggravate symptoms of keratosis pilaris, moisturizing is key to improving the look of small bumps on the arms, legs, and buttocks. Your dermatologist can recommend skincare products that gently moisturize and provide mild exfoliation to help smooth and soften rough, bumpy skin. Additionally, be cautious when it comes to which exfoliants you use. Chemical exfoliants are generally considered an ideal choice over physical exfoliants, such as scrubs, which may aggravate symptoms.

 

If you think you may have keratosis pilaris, a qualified dermatologist can recommend the most effective treatments and skincare routine for improving your skin’s overall appearance. To help you learn more about rough and bumpy skin concerns, we’ve put together this helpful guide on rough skin patches and how to get rid of them.

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