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What is Keratosis Pilaris?

Tricia Christensen
By
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Keratosis pilaris is an annoying, but generally not serious condition that can affect the skin of anyone, resulting in the skin appearing bumpy, and occasionally red. The condition is quite common in children, often resolving as kids age, but some people continue to be affected by it for most of their lives. Though there’s no treatment that will take away the condition, and there’s normally no need to treat the condition, there are some medicines and some self-care tips that can help reduce the look of bumpy skin.

Most poeple get keratosis pilaris on the arms, legs, buttocks and face. It often occurs in patches, so that a whole area of skin will look like it has constant goosebumps. The skin may also feel rough or sandpapery. Unless irritated by other things, these bumps don’t tend to itch, but the appearance may be annoying to some, especially when bumps appear on the face where they actually can scar the skin.

What causes keratosis pilaris is a build up of the protein keratin. It can form plugs in hair follicles, resulting in the skin’s bumpy appearance. Often there is no identifiable reason why people get the condition, though in some cases, if your parents had it, you’re more genetically inclined to have it too. It is not caused simply by skin being dry, as many think, but dry skin can cause the bumps to have an even rougher feel.

Diagnosis can usually be made at a doctor’s office, and a dermatologist will definitely be able to identify the condition, usually by examining the little skin plugs, often called “horny plugs” made by keratin build up. Once the condition is diagnosed, unless it is causing considerable concern about appearance, prescribed medical treatment is usually unnecessary. When a person wants to minimize the look of the condition, any of the following might be prescribed:

  • Retinoid or Vitamin A creams, which can help unplug hair follicles.
  • Creams or Lotions with Urea, a urine protein, which can soften the skin and help reduce any skin irritation caused by the condition.
  • Topical corticosteroids usually of low strength may be used on areas that might scar, like the face.
  • Ammonium lactate, which can soften the plugs and the overall feel of the skin.

These treatments have to be applied daily in order to see reduction in the appearance of keratosis pilaris, and they won’t remove or cure the condition. For those who would prefer home treatment, it’s important to realize that scrubbing the skin roughly can actually make the problem worse. It’s recommended that you don’t use skin sloughing products, and that you towel off very gently after showers.

Moisturizers that contain lactic acid generally work best to treat this condition. Lactic acid tends to act on keratin and remove it from the skin. Getting a little, but not too much sun, can help too. Many people find the condition gets better over summer, but comes back with a vengeance during the other seasons. Unless any of the skin bumps show signs of infection or irritation, follow up visits with a doctor after diagnosis are usually not required, unless you’re on prescription medications to treat the condition.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen , Writer
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a The Health Board contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.

Discussion Comments

By tlcochran — On Jun 15, 2016

After years of money spent, trying everything I could find, a friend recommended Rodan+Fields Enhancements microdermabrasion paste and their Soothe 2 sensitive skin treatment. Oh, joyous day! It cleared mine up in just a couple days.

By anon323003 — On Mar 02, 2013

My bumps went away after two months gluten free. Easy to try to see if it helps you too.

By anon174292 — On May 10, 2011

I was diagnosed today after three years of stupid doctors, diagnoses, antibiotics, acne medications, hormones and depression. Its been worse and worse for every year and my work, I'm a model, gets very limited. I have still been working 100 percent, but with a low confidence and many embarrassing moments.

I know it won't be cured, of course I hope they will find a cure, but i have been living with this for so long that i kind of figured out what helps bothered skin. Bab yoil, salicylic scrub and aloe Vera creme. I am so relieved that I'm not alone. You all have no idea how "happy" I am. I will pray for us all with KP that a miracle creme will help us soon.

By anon99740 — On Jul 27, 2010

i have KP too and it is really embarrassing. It is on the back of my arms and it looks gross. so whenever i hang out with my friends i always wear shirts to cover it up and I'm a teenager so i don't want to have to worry about these things. Is there anything that an get rid of it?

By anon98460 — On Jul 23, 2010

I am also of African descent as well, and I have suffered so much social embarrassment because of this condition. However I stumbled on a really good website that helped me clear my spots successfully in such little time - I was really amazed by the results.

The thing is I have spent so much money on creams and crap and I have become less trusting of products. And most products don't agree with Black skins, let alone Keratosis Pilaris.

But this actually works. It's hard to believe. If I had seen this website earlier I would have saved myself a lot of aggravation.

By anon81456 — On May 01, 2010

I've had KP all my life but found a product called "KP Duty" body scrub in the shower, followed by tons of body lotion as soon as I get out of the shower to be the cure. Do this at least every other day for the first year, then twice a week may be enough. All this depends on how fast your KP comes back without it. I found immediate results with a few weeks.

By anon40188 — On Aug 06, 2009

i've done much reading since having a bad flare up this summer. everything i've read so far says that k.p. is worse in the winter and that it doesn't usually itch. i'm not finding that to be the case at all! i live in the northeastern area of the u.s.a. and we've had a lot of rain/humid hot weather and i just had the worst flare-up in my life. exfoliating did make the texture of my skin feel much better, but i itch and when i scratch (even gently), it burns. i'm wondering if it is related to the weather being much less sunny than normal or if it is my age (47) and is being affected by hormone levels. i'm searching for a good o.t.c. moisturizer with lactic acid tomorrow, as i've heard this recommended several times on the web. i'm hoping this comment is found by other miserable k.p. sufferers that might be going through a similar experience.

By anon38105 — On Jul 23, 2009

I was diagnosed with Keratosis Pilaris the other day. Had a lot of itching and was given a Kenalog shot. seems that when I get out of the shower or get too warm, the itching starts. Is this unusual?

By habura — On Jul 23, 2008

Anon15863 - You should consult a health care professional to determine what treatment options are available to you. It seems that there is no treatment that is a definite cure-all. Most treatments seem to revolve around self care and the routine application of medicated creams. But, it seems that these creams usually don't cure the problem, rather they reduce the appearance of keratosis so long as application is going on. If there are places that are willing to treat with laser, I don't know how effective it will be. Talk to a health care professional directly to find out the best options for you.

By anon15863 — On Jul 23, 2008

I am a lady of African Descent. i have had keratosis pilaris for as long as i can remember. My father has it and i think it is hereditary. The problem is that it has caused me a lot of embarrassment and has made me want to hide my body parts that are affected. I have reached a point where i want to have it eliminated is there a treatment that can successfully eliminate the scaly parts? can laser technology be used to remove those affected parts? i am looking forward for your kind answer since i am desperate.

Tricia Christensen

Tricia Christensen

Writer

With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a The Health Board contributor, Tricia...
Learn more
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