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Keratosis pilaris is a fairly common skin condition that isn’t harmful or painful but does make rough-feeling bumps appear on various areas throughout the body. Keratosis pilaris is frequently referred to as chicken skin because of its look and feel. The bumps are formed from dead skin cells clogging hair follicles that may sometimes appear reddish or brownish in color. 

Usually, keratosis pilaris, or chicken skin, crops up on the upper arms, thighs, cheeks or buttocks. In individuals who experience keratosis pilaris, the skin disorder tends to get worse during winter months or while pregnant. Most of the time, chicken skin clears up by one’s 30’s, however, there are also preventative measures one can take to prevent it. 

Risk Factors for Keratosis Pilaris 

There are certain risk factors that may make one more prone to developing keratosis pilaris. These can include the following: 

  • Under thirty 
  • Can worsen during puberty
  • Have a family history of keratosis pilaris
  • Fair or lighter skin are more prone to developing it 
  • Some skin conditions can be risk factors like already having eczema or ichthyosis vulgaris. 
  • Asthma 
  • Being obese or overweight 

Symptoms of Keratosis Pilaris

The appearance of these clogged pores is the most obvious sign or symptom of this skin disease. They look like goosebumps or raw chicken skin – hence the name. Other symptoms may include: 

  • Itchy skin
  • Irritable skin
  • Pinkness or redness around the bumps
  • Dry patches or the feeling of dry skin
  • Sandpaper in feeling
  • Depending on your skin tone or the skin tone of that part of your body where the keratosis pilaris occurs, the bumps will appear in that color. 

Treatment Options for Keratosis Pilaris

Since this skin condition isn’t harmful, contagious or life threatening, you don’t necessarily need to treat it right away. If you do decide to seek treatment in pursuit of smooth, clear skin, the following options are a great place to start: 

  • OTC creams. Over the counter topical ointments and creams that contain alpha-hydroxy acids like lactic acid or glycerin can help get rid of the dead skin that clogs pores while softening the bumps that arise. Additionally, lotions or washes that contain rose water can help soften the bumps. 
  • Medicated ointments. If your case of keratosis pilaris is more severe and impervious to over-the-counter skin creams, a dermatologist may be able to prescribe something that can help. A prescription strength retinoids or medicated washes may be in order, but should be introduced with caution, especially for those with sensitive skin. 
  • Use Body Lotion. Brands like CeraVe are gentle and soothing on the skin, don’t use artificial ingredients and are fragrance free. Choosing a hydrating lotion may alleviate some symptoms of keratosis pilaris.
  • Exfoliating. Since keratosis pilaris stems from a buildup of dead skin cells, increasing exfoliation efforts may be the best place to start. Body scrubs that use salicylic acid, glycolic acid or gentle, mechanical exfoliating ingredients work wonders in aiding the removal of dead skin cells. Depending on where your keratosis pilaris occurs, skin care tactics like dry brushing, using a loofah or scheduling a microdermabrasion treatment at the dermatology office may help. 
  • Laser treatments. If moisturizers and exfoliation tactics fail, laser treatments may provide relief. Your dermatologist may use laser light to treat redness, swelling and inflammation caused by keratosis pilaris. They may use other forms of light therapy in conjunction with the laser treatments, or recommend pairing a hydrating, fragrance-free moisturizer with each treatment. 
  • Change your skincare routine. So many things bombard our skin each day and can be the cause of irritation, cell turnover and dead skin cell build up. Switching up your shower routine to use lukewarm water, omitting any products with fragrance (even shampoos and conditioners) and opting for a natural detergent can be beneficial skin care practices that relieve some cases of keratosis pilaris. 
  • Wear breathable clothing. Since this ‘chicken skin’ condition is caused by dead skin cell build up, it’s crucial to wear breathable clothing whenever you can. When working out, opt for loose-fitting, moisture-wicking materials that don’t trap sweat against the skin. 
  • Wash your bedding regularly. Sheets and comforters quickly trap dead skin cells, dirt and sweat that we slough off each night. If you already wash your sheets weekly, increase your laundry routine to twice a week or buy another sheet set to swap out mid-week. 
  • Avoid shaving irritated patches. If keratosis pilaris occurs on your legs or arms, stop shaving those areas until it clears up. Shaving can only exacerbate irritation or even cause bumps to become infected or inflamed. 
  • Use a humidifier. Cold, dry air can irritate even the toughest of skin. Using a humidifier during the dry winter or if you live full time in arid climates can help alleviate dryness or irritation that may be causing bumpy skin. 

Keratosis pilaris occurs because of hair follicles getting clogged with dead skin. The best way to mitigate that is to clean off excess dead skin on a regular basis with habitual skincare processes. Instead of treating only the symptoms – chicken skin that may appear red or feel itchy – treat the root cause. 

Seek Dermatological Advice

Keratosis Pilaris, while not life threatening, can be unsightly and lead to a lack of confidence. For some, they will avoid social situations that require swim suits, shorts or sleeveless shirts. If you’ve tried home remedies and found no relief, consult with a dermatologist to determine if there are other targeting treatments available to cure your keratosis pilaris.

UCF Health’s patient portal offers a plethora of resources, like COVID-19 updates for patients, to help keep patients feeling their best, both inside and out. If you haven’t yet found a dermatologist you like and trust, there’s no time like the present. Book an appointment with an Orlando dermatologist via our online scheduling. Your epidermis is the largest organ on your body, it’s about time to prioritize its health.