Keratosis pilaris, sometimes called “chicken skin,” is a common skin condition that causes patches of rough bumps to appear on the skin. These tiny bumps or pimples are dead skin cells plugging hair follicles.
Keratosis pilaris commonly occurs on the upper arms, thighs, cheeks, or buttocks. It isn’t contagious, and these bumps don’t usually cause discomfort or itching.
There’s no cure for the condition, but some methods may treat it or prevent it from worsening. Keratosis pilaris will usually clear up naturally by the time you reach age 30.
Here’s everything you need to know about this skin condition.
The most notable symptom of keratosis pilaris is its appearance. The visible bumps appearing on the skin resemble 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 common on the upper arms and thighs. It can extend to the forearms and lower legs.
Other symptoms associated with it include:
- slight discoloration around bumps
- itchy, irritable skin
- dry skin
- bumps that feel like sandpaper
- bumps that can appear in different colors (flesh-colored, white, red, pink, brown, or black) depending on skin tone
This benign skin condition results from a buildup of keratin, a hair protein, in the pores.
If you have keratosis pilaris, the keratin of your body hair clogs 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 might notice a small hair emerge.
The exact cause of keratin buildup is unknown, but doctors think it may be associated with skin conditions such as atopic dermatitis and genetic conditions.
Who can develop keratosis pilaris?
Chicken skin is common in women, children, or teenagers, as well as those 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 adolescence. It typically clears up in your mid-20s, with most cases completely gone by age 30.
Hormonal changes can cause flare-ups during pregnancy and during puberty. Keratosis pilaris is most common in people with fair skin.
Keratosis pilaris is diagnosed based on medical history and a physical exam. A skin doctor, known as a dermatologist, can typically confirm the diagnosis by looking at the affected area. Factors that go into the diagnosis include:
- your age
- what your skin looks like
- which areas are affected
There is no formal testing to confirm the diagnosis.
There’s no known cure for keratosis pilaris. It usually clears up on its own with age. You can try some treatments to alleviate the look of it, but keratosis pilaris is typically treatment-resistant. Improvement may take months if the condition improves at all.
Your dermatologist may recommend a moisturizing treatment to soothe itchy, dry skin and improve the skin’s appearance.
Many over-the-counter and prescription topical creams can remove dead skin cells or prevent hair follicles from being blocked. A doctor or healthcare professional can determine the best treatment for you.
Two common ingredients within moisturizing treatments are urea and lactic acid. These ingredients help to loosen and remove dead skin cells and soften dry skin. Other treatment methods a dermatologist may suggest include:
Be wary of the ingredients in these creams, though, and talk with a doctor before using them. Some prescription topical creams include acids that may cause negative side effects, including:
- skin discoloration
Keratosis pilaris isn’t preventable. But following a gentle skin care routine can help prevent flare-ups and minimize the appearance. For example, using an oil-free cream or ointment to moisturize your skin can help prevent the clogged pores contributing to keratosis pilaris.
If you don’t like the look of keratosis pilaris, there are some techniques you can try to treat it at home. Although the condition can’t be cured, self-care treatments can help minimize bumps, itching, and irritation.
- Take warm baths: Taking short, warm baths can help unclog and loosen pores. 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 acids, such as lactic acids, can hydrate dry skin and encourage cell turnover.
- 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.
How do you get rid of keratosis pilaris?
There’s no cure for keratosis pilaris, but it typically resolves by itself with time.
You can reduce the appearance of a keratosis pilaris rash with moisturizing, exfoliation, and general skin care.
What triggers keratosis pilaris?
According to the American Academy of Dermatology, keratosis is caused by a buildup of dead skin cells that clog one’s pores. Keratosis pilaris may first appear before the age of 2 or during the adolescent years. Hormones may also cause flare-ups during puberty.
When keratosis pilaris develops in the teenage years, it often clears by the time a person is in their mid-20s. However, it can also continue into one’s adult years.
Is it OK to squeeze keratosis pilaris?
You should never squeeze or pick at keratosis pilaris. Doing so can cause irritation, swelling, and scarring.
Is keratosis pilaris a disease or disorder?
Keratosis pilaris is a common skin condition. It is neither a disease nor a disorder.
What does keratosis pilaris indicate?
Keratosis pilaris is a chronic skin condition. It is not a symptom of another health condition.
Researchers aren’t sure why some people get it and others don’t. It may be caused by certain genes that create excess keratin.
What is mistaken for keratosis pilaris?
Some people may mistake keratosis pilaris for small clusters of acne pimples, folliculitis, or goosebumps.
Keratosis pilaris, a skin condition often referred to as “chicken skin” due to its appearance, commonly affects people at a young age. While there’s no cure, it tends to go away on its own by the time you reach 30 years old.
In the meantime, certain steps can help you manage it. Work with a dermatologist to discover the best ways to treat it.