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Keratosis pilaris, sometimes called “chicken skin,” is a common skin condition that causes patches of rough-feeling bumps to appear on the skin. These tiny bumps or pimples are actually dead skin cells plugging hair follicles. They sometimes appear red or brown in color.
Keratosis pilaris is commonly found on the upper arms, thighs, cheeks, or buttocks. It isn’t contagious, and these bumps don’t usually cause any discomfort or itching.
This condition is known to worsen in the winter months when the skin tends to dry out, and may also worsen during pregnancy.
There’s no cure for this harmless, genetic skin condition, but there are some ways to treat it or prevent it from getting worse. Keratosis pilaris will usually clear up naturally by the time you reach 30 years old. Keep reading to learn more.
The most notable symptom of keratosis pilaris is its appearance. The visible bumps appearing on the skin resemble that of goosebumps or the skin of a plucked chicken. For this reason, it’s commonly known as “chicken skin.”
The bumps can appear anywhere on the skin where hair follicles exist, and therefore will never appear on the soles of your feet or palms of your hands. Keratosis pilaris is commonly found on the upper arms and thighs. In excess, it can extend to the forearms and lower legs.
Other symptoms associated with it include:
- slight pinkness or redness around bumps
- itchy, irritable skin
- dry skin
- bumps that feel like sandpaper
- bumps that can appear in different colors depending on skin tone (flesh-colored, white, red, pink, brown, or black)
This benign skin condition is the result of a buildup of keratin, a hair protein, in the pores.
If you have keratosis pilaris, the keratin of your body hair gets clogged in the pores, blocking the opening of growing hair follicles. As a result, a small bump forms over where a hair should be. If you were to pick at the bump, you may notice a small body hair emerge.
The exact cause of keratin buildup is unknown, but doctors think it may be associated with skin conditions like atopic dermatitis and genetic diseases.
Who can develop keratosis pilaris?
Chicken skin is common in people with:
Anyone can be susceptible to this skin condition, but it’s most common in children and teenagers. Keratosis pilaris often begins in late infancy or during adolescence. It typically clears up in one’s mid-20s, with most cases completely gone by the age of 30.
Hormonal changes can cause flare-ups during pregnancy for women and during puberty for teenagers. Keratosis pilaris is most common in people with fair skin.
There’s no known cure for keratosis pilaris. It usually clears up on its own with age. There are some treatments you can try to alleviate the look of it, but keratosis pilaris is typically treatment-resistant. Improvement may take months, if the condition improves at all.
A skin doctor, or dermatologist, may recommend a moisturizing treatment to soothe itchy, dry skin and improve the skin’s appearance from the keratosis rash. Many over-the-counter and prescription topical creams can remove dead skin cells or prevent hair follicles from being blocked, though your doctor.
If you don’t already have a dermatologist, our Healthline FindCare tool can help you connect to physicians in your area.
Two common ingredients within moisturizing treatments are urea and lactic acid. Together, these ingredients help to loosen and remove dead skin cells and soften dry skin. Other treatment methods your dermatologist may suggest include:
Be wary of the ingredients in these creams though, and talk with your doctor before using them. Some prescription topical creams include acids that may cause negative side effects, including:
If you don’t like the look of your keratosis pilaris, there are some techniques you can try to treat it at home. Though the condition can’t be cured, self-care treatments can help to minimize bumps, itching, and irritation.
- Take warm baths. Taking short, warm baths can help to unclog and loosen pores. Rub your skin with a stiff brush to potentially remove bumps. It’s important to limit your time in the bath, though, as longer wash times can remove the body’s natural oils.
- Exfoliate. Daily exfoliation can help improve the appearance of the skin. Dermatologists recommend gently removing dead skin with a loofah or pumice stone, which you can purchase online.
- Apply hydrating lotion. Lotions with alpha hydroxy acid (AHAs) like lactic acids can hydrate dry skin and encourage cell turnover. Some dermatologists recommend products like Eucerin Professional Repair and AmLactin, which you can purchase online. Glycerin, found in most beauty supply stores, can also soften bumps, while rose water can soothe skin inflammation.
- Avoid tight clothes. Wearing tight clothes can cause friction that can irritate the skin.
- Use humidifiers. Humidifiers add moisture to the air in a room, which can maintain the moisture in your skin and prevent itchy flare-ups. Purchase humidifiers online here.