Are you bothered by small bumps along your upper arms or thighs? These bumps are most likely a skin condition called keratosis pilaris. Just like acne, rosacea, and melasma, keratosis pilaris is a medically benign (harmless) condition, but it can still leave you feeling self-conscious of your appearance. This post will tell you a little more about keratosis pilaris, who is most susceptible, and what you can do about it.
What Is Keratosis Pilaris?
Often called “gooseflesh,” keratosis pilaris occurs when hair follicles get plugged up with keratin, a protein found in hair, skin, and nails, creating tiny (1-2 mm) white to gray bumps centered in the follicles. These bumps are evenly spaced on the skin surface and all look very similar to one another. Sometimes a thin, red ring surrounds the bump. This ring is usually an indication of mild inflammation. Very rarely, keratosis pilaris may cause mild itching.
The most common locations for keratosis pilaris include:
- Backs of the upper arms
- Fronts of the thighs
- Cheeks, especially in children
- Face, especially in teenagers
Do You Have Keratosis Pilaris?
Even though this skin condition can affect people of any age, any race, or either sex there are certain populations who tend to have it more than others. Specifically, keratosis pilaris:
- Is more common in females
- Affects up to 40% of adults and 50% to 80% of teenagers
- Is rarely seen in the elderly
- Tends to run in families
Your doctor can tell you if the bumps are likely keratosis pilaris. Having your skin tested by a medical expert can definitively confirm the condition.
What Can You Do About Keratosis Pilaris?
You’ll probably be disappointed to hear that keratosis pilaris is a chronic, usually inherited skin condition and not a diagnosis that can be cured. There is good news, though! Keratosis pilaris usually starts in early childhood (by age 10) and often gets worse during puberty. However, it frequently improves with age and in many cases may even go away entirely by early adulthood.
Even though this is a chronic condition, you don’t have to take a wait-and-see approach. There are ways you can treat keratosis pilaris. First, understand that keratosis pilaris tends to improve in warmer, more humid weather and worsen in colder, drier weather. This trend conveniently corresponds with symptoms being less visible during the time of year when you tend to expose arms and legs.
To improve the appearance of keratosis pilaris, it’s helpful to keep your skin moist. Use mild, fragrance-free cleansers and apply moisturizer daily just after bathing to lock in the moisture from your bath or shower. Look for over-the-counter creams and moisturizers that contain any of the following:
- Alpha-hydroxy acids such as glycolic or lactic acid
- Cortisone (if the areas are itchy)
Take care not to over-scrub the bumps! Harsh exfoliation with a pumice stone or similar material will irritate your skin and worsen the condition. If the bumps appear on the face, acne creams will not improve the symptoms and may irritate the skin. If your child or teenager has keratosis pilaris, do your best to discourage them from scratching or picking at the bumps. These actions can lead to bacterial infections or scarring.
If the appearance of your skin continues to bother you, see your dermatologist, who can recommend a more aggressive treatment. If it’s your teen or child, take them to see their pediatrician or dermatologist. Remember, keratosis pilaris cannot be cured, only managed. Once you stop treating it, even after the symptoms improve, you risk having it return.