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Keratosis pilaris happens when hair follicles become plugged up with dead skin cells, causing bumps.
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.
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 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 such as atopic dermatitis and genetic diseases.
Who can develop keratosis pilaris?
Chicken skin is common in women, children or teenagers, and those of Celtic ancestry, 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 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 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 just by looking at the affected area. Factors that go into the diagnosis include:
- your age
- what it looks like
- which areas it affects
No formal testing exists to confirm the diagnosis.
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.
Your 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. A doctor or healthcare professional can determine the best treatment for you.
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 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:
Keratosis pilaris isn’t preventable. But following a gentle skin care routine can help prevent flare-ups and minimize its appearance. For example, using an oil-free cream or ointment to moisturize your skin can help prevent the clogged pores that contribute to keratosis pilaris.
If you don’t like the look of your 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 acid such as lactic acids can hydrate dry skin and encourage cell turnover. Some dermatologists recommend products such as Eucerin Advanced 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.
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.