Keratosis pilaris— nicknamed ‘chicken skin’-- is a harmless skin condition in which the skin becomes bumpy and rough. These bumps may resemble goosebumps or the skin of a plucked chicken. Read on to understand more about symptoms, treatment, and prevention of keratosis pilaris.

What is keratosis pilaris?

This harmless, but sometimes uncomfortable skin condition occurs when there is a buildup of keratin, the protein which protects skin from infections and other unwanted agents. The keratin builds up, blocking hair follicles and creating plugs of dead skin cells. The bumps may appear white, red, or skin colored, and they give the skin a sandpaper-like texture. They often appear on the upper arms, legs, buttocks, and cheeks. Sometimes the skin in the area becomes itchy and inflamed, especially during seasonal change and dry winter months.



Symptoms of keratosis pilaris

Keratosis pilaris most commonly occurs in young children and adolescents. It often resolves itself by the time a person reaches age 30. Symptoms of this skin condition include:

  • Tiny bumps which usually appear on the upper arms, front of the thighs, buttocks, and cheeks
  • Rough, dry skin in the bumpy areas
  • Sandpaper-like texture of the skin in the bumpy areas
  • Worsening of the symptoms during seasonal changes and at times of low humidity



Who gets keratosis pilaris?

People with dry skin or skin conditions like atopic dermatitis and eczema and more likely to get keratosis pilaris. Adults can get this skin condition, although it is more common among children and adolescents, and usually resolves by age 30. Females are affected by keratosis pilaris more frequently than males are.



When to see a doctor

This condition is harmless, although you may want to see a doctor if the skin is very dry and becomes itchy or inflamed. The doctor may prescribe a topical cream to treat dryness and to smooth out the skin. Usually, a family doctor or a pediatrician can treat this skin condition, but in some cases, a referral to a dermatologist may be necessary.



Diagnosis of keratosis pilaris

Diagnosis of this skin condition is pretty straightforward. No lab tests are required because a doctor can diagnose this condition simply by looking at your skin. The doctor may ask for a family history since there is a strong genetic component to keratosis pilaris.




There is no treatment for keratosis pilaris, although there are things you can do to improve the appearance of the skin or treat itchiness.

  • Use non-soap cleansers. Soap cleansers tend to dry skin out and may worsen the condition.
  • Use moisturizing lotions and creams to treat dry skin. Creams containing salicylic acid, lactic acid, or urea may work best.
  • Use an exfoliating pad or pumice stone to remove dead skin cells and prevent further buildup. Don’t scrub too hard!
  • Take lukewarm showers. Very hot water can dry out the skin and worsen the condition.
  • Use a humidifier during times of low humidity
  • If these home remedies don’t work, your doctor may prescribe topical creams to improve your condition. They may include:
    • Creams to remove dead skin cells. Some of these creams are available over-the-counter (OTC) and some are available by prescription. Your doctor can advise you which cream to use. This group of creams includes alpha hydroxy acid, lactic acid, salicylic acid, or urea. They work by loosening and removing dead skin cells which moisturizing dry skin.
    • Creams to prevent clogged follicles. Topical retinoids derived from vitamin A promote cell turnover and prevent clogged follicles. It should be noted that these treatments may cause the skin to become very sensitive, irritated, and dry. They are not recommended for pregnant women.




Keratosis pilaris is usually mild, although may be marked by occasional flare-ups during seasonal change and dry weather. I most patients, the skin condition improves with age, clearing up at around age 30.



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