Keratosis pilaris (KP) is a common inherited skin condition in which there is a buildup of skin protein (keratin) around hair follicles on the arms, thighs, buttocks and/or cheeks. This buildup of keratin causes a plug around hair follicles. It appears as red, white, or dry bumps around hair follicles on the body. KP can make you appear as if you have “goose bumps.”
Keratosis pilaris creates a sensation that your skin feels like bumpy sandpaper. This is a harmless condition and may be asymptomatic. Oftentimes, people find KP cosmetically annoying, and occasionally itchy. Sometimes the bumps are very red and raised. Otherwise they can be skin colored. Having dry skin can aggravate this condition. For some people the area affected by KP can look darker or lighter than surrounding skin.
Keratosis pilaris is an inherited condition associated with other skin disorders such as eczema. KP tends to start in childhood or teenage years, waxes and wanes over time, and for many resolves before the age of 30. In children, KP tends to occur on upper arms, thighs and/or cheeks. As kids get older, they can have KP lesions additionally on buttocks, lower arms and lower legs. For some people this condition can last into adulthood, sometimes lifelong. Keratosis pilaris is not contagious. It is not proven to be caused by nutritional deficiencies or dietary intake.
Keratosis pilaris cannot be cured, but topical treatments can improve the look and severity. Topical products that contain keratolytics (agents that make skin cells turn over faster) or exfoliants (agents that help you shed skin cells) can be helpful. These agents speed up the turnover of skin cells, and can help shed the buildup of old skin cells. Some of these products can cause a burning sensation, so children may not tolerate these products. These products otherwise are generally very safe. Moisturizers can also be helpful and usually do not cause any burning or stinging. Corticosteroids can help calm some of the inflammation associated with keratosis pilaris, but chronic use is not ideal. Topical steroids can cause skin thinning and suppress cortisol production internally. Therefore, topical steroids should be used less frequently and in smaller surface areas, especially in young children.
OTC Treatment Options
Arms / Legs
CeraVe SA Body Wash for Rough & Bumpy Skin
(salicylic acid, lactic acid & ceramides)
AmLactin Ultra Smoothing Intensely Hydrating Cream
Wash with CeraVe SA Body Wash for Rough & Bumpy Skin daily. After showering, apply Amlactin Alpha Hydroxy Therapy Ultra Smoothing Intensely Hydrating (or alternative) cream. A second application can be done later in the day.
Do not use these agents too frequently if it irritates your skin. Also, note that products like ammonium lactate (alpha-hydroxy acid) may increase your skin’s sensitivity to sun. Be sun smart: use sunscreen, wear protective clothing, and limit sun exposure while using this product and for a week afterward.
If you have sensitive skin, do these treatments two or three times weekly. Follow up with a moisturizers as needed, such as CeraVe Moisturizing Cream or Aveeno Eczema Cream.
Note that shaving or waxing can aggravate keratosis pilaris. Self tanner may also aggravate KP in some people. For redness, occasional application of hydrocortisone 1% lotion can be helpful. Note that all of these treatments do not work overnight, and you may need to use these treatments for several weeks before you see improvement. You will need to continue to use these treatments for continued benefit.
CeraVe Renewing SA Cleanser
AmLactin Alpha Hydroxy Therapy Rapid Relief Restoring Lotion
Children Under 6 Years Old
Cetaphil Gentle Skin Cleanser
CeraVe Moisturizing Cream
AM & PM
Wash your face, arms and legs with a gentle cleanser, such as CeraVe Hydrating Facial Cleanser or Cetaphil Gentle Skin Cleanser. Apply CeraVe Moisturizing Cream at least once a day to face, arms or legs. Moisturizing well improves KP considerably.
For redness occasional application of hydrocortisone 1% lotion can be helpful, but these agents must be used sparingly in children, who are more susceptible to its side effects.
These treatments do not work overnight, and you may need to use these treatments for several weeks before you see improvement. You will need to continue to use these treatments for continued benefit.
Following these regimens can improve the appearance of KP. Note that it will not cure the condition, but should make it much less noticeable.
If following these recommendations does not improve your condition, it may be helpful to see your dermatologist for stronger keratolytics that are prescription strength or other treatment options.