Keratosis Pilaris: What Is It & 7 Ways to Treat It

As the weather warms and we start switching back to T-shirts, tank tops, and shorts those lovely little red bumps on our arms and legs are getting noticed again!

Enjoy this read and, as always, click the numbers in square brackets to check out all the references!

What is Keratosis pilaris?

Keratosis pilaris (KP) is a group of skin issues where you get a hyperkeratosis of your follicles [i]. That means you get thickened keratin build up that plugs your body hair follicles [ii] and creates little red bumps. Usually these bumps are on the upper arms, upper legs, and sometimes the torso (back, hips, etc.).

The little red bumps visible around the tattoo and all along the arm are KP!

Who gets Keratosis pilaris and why?

This is an X-linked dominant genetic trait, meaning if both your parents have it you will as well [iii]. If only one does you might be in the clear! Any skin tone can have KP. It is more common among men than women [iv] but many women have to deal with it (myself included).

Some studies have shown that Vitamin B12 and Vitamin A deficiencies, hypothyroidism, and Cushing disease can worsen your KP [v]. It can also be worse for people with diabetes mellitus, other types of dermatitis, and obesity [vi].

Common myths about where Keratosis pilaris comes from:

I have heard people say KP comes from eating wheat, eating dairy, eating chocolate, drinking alcohol, and so on. Nope!

None of these things cause KP (they definitely cause hunger though)

How to treat Keratosis pilaris

Many people who have KP as teens will get reduced symptoms as they age [vii] (sadly not the case for me!). Otherwise there are keratolytic (excess skin peeling) ingredients you can look for to help reduce the appearance of KP. These come in body scrubs, creams, and toners. I definitely do not recommend trying to pop keratosis bumps because it doesn't help and can damage your skin and hair follicles.

AHAs (alpha hydroxy acids)

There are 5 types of AHAs: glycolic acid, lactic acid, citric acid, malic acid, and tartaric acid [viii]. The two you will find in KP creams are lactic acid (cream formulations of at least 10%) [ix] and glycolic acid (formulations of at least 7%) [x].