Keratosis pilaris is a common, harmless skin condition that affects millions of people worldwide. It is characterized by small, rough bumps on the skin, often resembling goosebumps or chicken skin.
What is Keratosis Pilaris?
Keratosis pilaris is a skin condition that results from the buildup of keratin, a protein that protects the skin from infections and other harmful substances. The buildup of keratin around hair follicles causes small, rough bumps to form, creating a sandpaper-like texture on the skin.
These small bumps give the skin a bumpy appearance, often resembling goosebumps or chicken skin. This condition typically affects the upper arms, thighs, buttocks, and sometimes the face. It is most prevalent in adolescents but can occur at any age.
Common Locations for Keratosis Pilaris
Keratosis pilaris is most likely to occur on the following areas of the body:
- Upper arms: Most frequently affected area where the bumps may be more noticeable.
- Thighs: Another common area, particularly on the front and outer sides of the thighs.
- Buttocks: The bumps may appear across the entire buttocks or in localized patches.
- Cheeks (less common): Keratosis pilaris can also affect the cheeks, particularly in children, and may cause redness and inflammation.
Different Types of Keratosis Pilaris
There are several variants and syndromes associated with keratosis pilaris, including:
- Keratosis pilaris rubra: Characterized by red, inflamed bumps that may cause discomfort and itching.
- Keratosis pilaris alba: Presents as rough, white bumps without redness or inflammation, and may be less noticeable than other types.
- Keratosis pilaris atrophicans: A rare form that can cause scarring and hair loss, often accompanied by other skin conditions such as atopic dermatitis or ichthyosis.
Causes of Keratosis Pilaris
The exact cause of keratosis pilaris is unknown, but it is believed to be associated with genetic factors and dry skin. Individuals with a family history of atopic dermatitis, ichthyosis vulgaris, or other skin conditions may be more prone to developing keratosis pilaris.
Environmental factors, such as cold, dry weather, can also exacerbate the condition, making it more prevalent during the winter months.
However, one study offers a different perspective on the cause of keratosis pilaris, suggesting that it may not be a disorder of keratinization but rather caused by the circular hair shaft, which ruptures the follicular epithelium leading to inflammation and abnormal follicular keratinization.
Keratosis pilaris tends to run in families, indicating a genetic component. Although the specific genes responsible for the condition have not been identified, research suggests that it may be linked to an overproduction of keratin or an inability to break down and remove excess keratin.
A recent study found a potential link between keratosis pilaris and a mutation in the ABCA12 gene, which might produce a damaged protein and contribute to the development of this skin condition. Ongoing research aims to better understand the genetic factors contributing to keratosis pilaris, including the role of mutations or changes in ABCA12 expression..
Dry skin is a common trigger for keratosis pilaris. Cold, dry climates and low humidity can lead to dry skin, exacerbating the condition. Additionally, frequent use of harsh soaps or hot water can strip the skin of natural oils, further contributing to dryness and keratosis pilaris flare-ups.
Other factors, such as sun exposure and hormonal changes, may also play a role in the development of the condition.
Symptoms and Diagnosis
The primary symptom of keratosis pilaris is the presence of small, rough bumps on the skin. These bumps may be red, white, or skin-colored and are often accompanied by dry, rough patches. The affected areas may feel itchy, but the condition is typically not painful.
A dermatologist can diagnose keratosis pilaris by visually examining the skin. In some cases, a skin biopsy may be necessary to rule out other conditions with similar symptoms, such as eczema or follicular hyperkeratosis.
How to Identify Keratosis Pilaris
Keratosis pilaris can be identified by its characteristic small, rough bumps and dry, rough patches on the skin. These bumps may resemble goosebumps or chicken skin and are most commonly found on the upper arms, thighs, and buttocks.
When to See a Dermatologist
If you suspect you have keratosis pilaris and are experiencing discomfort or self-consciousness, it is recommended to consult with a dermatologist. A healthcare professional can provide a definitive diagnosis and recommend appropriate treatment options to help manage the condition.
Treatment Options for Keratosis Pilaris
While there is no cure for keratosis pilaris, several treatment options can help improve the appearance of the skin and alleviate symptoms. These treatments aim to soften the bumps, exfoliate dead skin cells, and moisturize the skin.
Over-the-counter creams and lotions containing alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs) such as glycolic acid or lactic acid can help exfoliate the skin and reduce the appearance of bumps. Urea-based creams can also be effective in softening the skin and improving the texture.
Additionally, salicylic acid, a beta hydroxy acid (BHA), is another common ingredient found in skin care products that can help with not only keratosis pilaris but also pimples by unclogging pores and promoting cell turnover.
It is essential to choose products designed for sensitive skin to minimize irritation and ensure the best results for your skin type.
In more severe cases, a dermatologist may prescribe topical retinoids, such as tretinoin, to help exfoliate the skin and reduce the buildup of keratin. Topical retinoids, which are derived from vitamin A, play a crucial role in skin care and dermatology.
These medications can cause irritation and should be used under the guidance of a healthcare provider to ensure proper application and to minimize potential side effects.
Gentle exfoliating scrubs or using a loofah can help remove dead skin cells and improve the appearance of keratosis pilaris. It is important not to scrub too aggressively, as this can further irritate the skin.
Regularly moisturizing the affected areas with fragrance-free, hypoallergenic creams or lotions can also help alleviate dryness and improve the skin’s texture.
In some cases, laser treatments may be recommended to reduce redness and inflammation associated with keratosis pilaris. Pulsed dye laser therapy is one option that can target redness without damaging the surrounding skin.
A study has shown that three treatments with the 810-nm diode laser can significantly improve skin texture and roughness/bumpiness in KP patients with Fitzpatrick skin types I through III. However, this treatment may not improve baseline erythema (redness).
To achieve complete treatment of both erythema and texture, diode laser treatment may need to be combined with other laser or medical modalities that specifically address redness. These treatments should only be performed by a qualified medical professional.
Prevention and Management
While keratosis pilaris cannot be cured, the following tips can help prevent flare-ups and manage symptoms:
- Keep the skin moisturized: Regularly apply fragrance-free, hypoallergenic creams or lotions to the affected areas.
- Limit exposure to hot water: Prolonged exposure to hot water can strip the skin of natural oils, leading to dryness. Opt for lukewarm water when showering or bathing.
- Use gentle soaps: Choose mild, fragrance-free soaps that will not further dry out the skin.
- Exfoliate gently: Use a gentle exfoliating scrub or a loofah to remove dead skin cells and improve the skin’s texture.
- Humidify your living space: Using a humidifier during the winter months can help maintain indoor humidity levels, reducing the likelihood of dry skin and keratosis pilaris flare-ups.
Keratosis pilaris is a common, harmless skin condition characterized by small, rough bumps on the skin. While the exact cause is unknown, it is believed to be associated with genetic factors and dry skin. Various treatments for keratosis pilaris, such as over-the-counter creams, prescription medications, and home remedies, can help manage symptoms and improve the appearance of bumpy skin.
Consult with a dermatologist to determine the most appropriate treatment options for your specific needs. By following prevention and management strategies, you can minimize flare-ups and maintain healthier, smoother skin. If you are seeking effective treatment of keratosis pilaris, a dermatology professional can provide guidance and support.
- Drivenes JL, Vasilescu IC, Bygum A. Keratosis pilaris. Tidsskr Nor Laegeforen. 2023 Mar 7;143(5). English, Norwegian. doi:10.4045/tidsskr.22.0513
- Thomas M, Khopkar US. Keratosis pilaris revisited: is it more than just a follicular keratosis? Int J Trichology. 2012 Oct;4(4):255-8. doi:10.4103/0974-7753.111215
- Liu F, Yang Y, Zheng Y, Liang YH, Zeng K. Mutation and expression of ABCA12 in keratosis pilaris and nevus comedonicus. Mol Med Rep. 2018 Sep;18(3):3153-3158. doi:10.3892/mmr.2018.9342
- Ibrahim O, Khan M, Bolotin D, Dubina M, Nodzenski M, Disphanurat W, Kakar R, Yoo S, Whiting D, West DP, Poon E, Veledar E, Alam M. Treatment of keratosis pilaris with 810-nm diode laser: a randomized clinical trial. JAMA Dermatol. 2015 Feb;151(2):187-91. doi:10.1001/jamadermatol.2014.2211