Keratosis pilaris or “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. These bumps sometimes appear red or brown in color.

Chicken skin is commonly found on the upper arms, thighs, cheeks, or buttocks. Chicken skin 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, however 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
  • sandpaper-like feeling of bumps
  • bumps that can appear in different colors depending on skin tone (flesh-colored, white, red, pink, brown, or black)

Not sure if you have keratosis or psoriasis? We break down the differences here.

This benign skin condition is the result of a buildup of keratin — a hair protein — in the pores. If you have chicken skin, 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 other 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, however it’s most common in children and teenagers. Keratosis pilaris often begins in the late infancy years or during adolescence. It typically clears up in one’s mid-twenties, 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, however, keratosis pilaris is typically treatment-resistant. Improvement may take months, if the condition improves at all.

Dermatological treatments

A skin doctor, or dermatologist, may recommend a moisturizing treatment to soothe itchy, dry skin and to improve the skin’s appearance from the keratosis rash. Prescribed topical creams can also remove dead skin cells or prevent hair follicles from being blocked. 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 prescribe 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:

  • redness
  • stinging
  • irritation
  • dryness

There are also some experimental treatment options available, such as photopneumatic therapy and vascular laser treatment.

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 cannot be cured, self-care treatments can help to minimize bumps, itching, and irritation.

  1. 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, however, because longer wash times can remove the body’s natural oils.
  2. Exfoliation. Daily exfoliation can help to improve the appearance of the skin. Dermatologists recommend gently removing dead skin with a loofah or pumice stone.
  3. Coconut oil. Coconut oil is known for its anti-inflammatory properties. It can be used as a base to a sugar scrub to help exfoliate and soothe itchy, dry skin.
  4. Avoid tight clothes. Wearing tight clothes can cause friction that can irritate the skin.
  5. Humidifiers. Humidifiers add moisture to the air in a room, which can maintain the moisture in your skin and prevent itchy flare-ups.