In Ask a Dermatologist

Keratosis pilaris is an extremely common condition affecting roughly 40 percent of adults and over half of all adolescents. If you are one of the countless individuals with keratosis pilaris, you understand how this condition can be frustrating, even if you may not know much about it. Here, our board-certified dermatologists share helpful information about keratosis pilaris.

What is keratosis pilaris?

Keratosis pilaris is a skin condition defined by patches of rough, dry skin accompanied by small bumps. The condition most often appears during adolescence, with up to 80 percent of children having it to some degree. It generally reaches its peak during puberty. For many, the symptoms last to adulthood and do not show signs of clearing up until they reach their thirties. While the condition is benign, many adult sufferers find it to be cosmetically displeasing.

Symptoms of keratosis pilaris

The condition manifests as areas of dry skin with clusters of small, raised bumps. The coloration of the bumps can vary, ranging from flesh-tone to red and sometimes brown. The condition is more informally known as “chicken skin” because the bumps create a goose-flesh appearance. It is common to find it on the upper arms and legs, buttocks and face. While the bumps do generally not cause any irritation, more acute cases can cause mild itchiness or sensitivity.

Causes of keratosis pilaris

The main cause of keratosis pilaris is an excess buildup of keratin, a hair protein that protects your skin. Cells continue to collect rather than flake off as they normally should. This overabundance of cells plugs your skin’s pores and blocks the openings that hairs grow through. Once the hair is trapped, it pushes the skin up, creating the bumps. The excess keratin usually plugs several pores, building patches of bumpy skin.

While most people show signs of keratosis pilaris at some point, genetic predispositions increase the likelihood of developing the condition. Fair skin and family histories of disorders, such as eczema and asthma, can predict the condition.

Some lifestyle and environmental factors can affect your susceptibility to developing symptoms. The condition is more common in people who suffer from dry skin or obesity. Women can also experience it during pregnancy. Flare-ups tend to occur during the winter when the air is dry, while the summer can bring some relief.

Treating keratosis pilaris

Keratosis pilaris can go untreated and not cause any severe health problems. While innocuous, those patches of chicken skin can cause patients to be self-conscious of their appearance. Fortunately, there are solutions to improve your skin, including home remedies, prescription creams and dermatological treatments.

Moisturizing treatments and topical medicated creams are usually effective in treating symptoms. The active ingredients in most creams, urea and lactic acid, soften the skin and whisk away the dead cells that block your pores. Talking with your doctor about the best treatments is the best course of action. But, you can also refer to this list of over-the-counter products that can reduce symptoms. Your doctor may prescribe a more targeted medicine to remove the dead cells, but these can often cause other irritations when applied.

Simple additions to your routine can also remedy the problem. Taking a warm bath will open your pores and using an exfoliation treatment will remove dead skin cells. Using a loofah, stiff brush or pumice stone in the bath is helpful. At-home microdermabrasion products can be beneficial if you need more intense treatment.

Some everyday considerations require little effort at all. Simply wearing more relaxed clothing can reduce friction against your skin that can cause irritation. If the air is getting drier, use a humidifier to give your skin some moisture.

More advanced solutions include laser treatments and experimental types of phototherapy that come into play when topical creams and moisturizers fail. These can more accurately improve your skin’s appearance and feel as they work to reduce the swelling, discoloration and coarse texture.

Living with keratosis pilaris

There is no cure for keratosis pilaris. You can treat it regularly to manage the appearance of your skin, but there is no way to get rid of it permanently. For most, it will eventually disappear naturally.

While keratosis pilaris is harmless, you should still discuss the symptoms with your dermatologist. Few people realize how easy it is to manage the condition and find relief from blemished skin. More importantly, talking with your dermatologist can inspire more confidence in your health. It is easy to misidentify keratosis pilaris on your own because it can carry similar characteristics to other conditions like psoriasis and certain fungal infections. If you are showing signs or symptoms, contact one of our dermatology offices in Columbia, Camden, Irmo or Lexington.

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