Keratosis Pilaris: Little Bumps, Big Annoyance
Itâ€™s like having goose bumps when youâ€™re not cold. Keratosis pilaris turns soft, smooth skin into sandpaper. This common skin condition most often causes arm bumps, but it can also created bumps on the upper thighs, buttocks, and face.
Doctors donâ€™t know why some people develop these arm bumps and others donâ€™t, but there are ways to treat keratosis pilaris.
What Causes It, Who Gets It
Normally, skin cells imperceptibly flake off on their own. But that doesnâ€™t happen for people with keratosis pilaris. For those with this skin condition, the skin protein keratin plugs the hair follicles and causes tiny white or red bumps that may be itchy. The bumps arenâ€™t painful, but can make the skin feel dry and rough.
Although it can happen at any age, this is a skin condition that generally affects the young. Babies may have it, particularly on their cheeks, but itâ€™s most common in teenagers on the upper arms. It can also appear on the upper thighs or buttocks.
Keratosis pilaris tends to decrease or disappear by age 30. In the meantime, it can become worse during the winter when humidity is low and the skin is dry. The arm bumps may also get worse during pregnancy or after giving birth.
Keratosis pilaris is not rare: Nearly 4 in 10 people have it. People who already have dry skin or eczema are at higher risk for developing it. It also runs in families.
Keratosis Pilaris Treatment Tips
These skin bumps are harmless, so you donâ€™t have to treat them if they donâ€™t bother you. However, if youâ€™d like to get rid of keratosis pilaris, try these steps:
- Start by moisturizing. Moisturize your skin several times a day, especially after bathing. You can try plain petroleum jelly, such as Vaseline, or creams like Acid Mantle or Complex 15. If these moisturizers donâ€™t do the trick, try an over-the-counter medicated cream that contains urea, lactic acid, glycolic acid, salicylic acid, or vitamin D.
- Consider a prescription. A dermatologist may advise using a chemical peel that can strip the extra skin cells or a topical retinoid (a vitamin A derivative) that you can get with a prescription, such as tretinoin (Retin-A, Renova). If arm bumps and other bumps caused by keratosis pilaris are very red and appear to be infected, your doctor may prescribe antibiotics.
- Take a hot bath and exfoliate. Rubbing your skin with a washcloth, brush, or exfoliating body sponge after an occasional long, hot bath can help dislodge the plugs in your hair follicles and make your skin smoother. The rest of the time, avoid drying out your skin by taking short, warm showers or baths and using mild soaps.
- Get help from a humidifier. Using a home humidifier when the humidity is low can help prevent keratosis pilaris from getting worse in the winter.
- Shave with a gel or cream. If keratosis pilaris affects areas you typically shave, make sure to shave after youâ€™ve bathed, and let the shaving gel or cream sit on your skin for a few minutes before you start shaving. Getting hairs soft will help minimize irritation.
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