Although its nickname "chicken skin" may be humorous, keratosis pilaris is no laughing matter to people affected by the condition. Roughly half of all people have suffered or will suffer from some degree of keratosis pilaris, and the condition is more prevalent in girls and women and people with dry skin and eczema.
Keratosis pilaris is not life threatening and carries no risk for health complications, but its appearance can be bothersome for those affected and negatively impact their self-esteem. The condition is marked by small bumps that appear on the skin on the backs of the arms, buttocks and thighs. Often, the bumps are flesh-colored and resemble goose bumps, but they have the potential to become red and look like a rash. When severe, chicken skin has a rough texture that many sufferers find unpleasant and embarrassing. Usually, keratosis pilaris is most severe during the winter months when the air is at its driest.
Chicken skin forms due to a buildup of keratin on the skin. Keratin is a natural protein present to some degree in everyone's skin tissue, but when the amount of keratin becomes excessive, it forms hard deposits in the hair follicles on the skin. The deposits cause the skin to become hard and scaly, resulting in the bumps that are the hallmark symptom of chicken skin. Doctors and medical scientists do not know what causes excess keratin to develop on some people's skin and not on others; however, keratosis pilaris seems to run in families, so a genetic predisposition to the condition is possible.
In some people, chicken skin gradually disappears with age, usually when sufferers are in their late 20s and early 30s. Unfortunately, the mysterious origins of keratosis pilaris make the condition difficult to treat. There is currently no cure for chicken skin, but methods are available to manage the condition.
If you suffer from chicken skin, it is vital that you treat the affected area with care. Never try to rub or pick off the bumps that occur from the condition; this can actually irritate your skin and cause it to become redder. Skin damage from scratching and picking can also lead to scarring and to dryness that can exacerbate keratosis pilaris. Whenever you wash or dry the affected area, pat the skin rather than rubbing.
Some people find that using a standalone humidifier or adding one to their heating system helps alleviate the dryness that can makes the condition worse. Lemon juice may also offer light exfoliating action to reduce excess keratin. When using lemon juice as a skin treatment, first dilute it with water to avoid irritation and stinging, especially if you have sensitive skin.
Depending on the severity of the condition, your doctor may prescribe medications to help treat chicken skin. Typically, topical treatments are more effective for treating keratosis pilaris symptoms as they act directly upon the affected areas rather than having to travel through your bloodstream.
One drug class commonly used to treat keratosis pilaris is topical corticosteroids, such as hydrocortisone. Corticosteroids work by suppressing your immune system, which reduces some of the inflammation associated with chicken skin. Despite their effectiveness for some patients, you cannot use corticosteroids to treat chicken skin for a prolonged period of time, as extended use can cause your skin to thin. If you have delicate skin, cortisone creams may also be too harsh, resulting in an increase in irritation.
Topical retinoids, prescription strength vitamin A creams, may also assist with chicken skin. These medications increase the rate at which your skin produces new cells and sheds the old ones, decreasing the opportunity for keratin plugs to develop in your hair follicles. Retinoids, like prescription tretinoin creams, have the potential to cause dryness and sun sensitivity and cannot be used by some individuals.
For many people, over-the-counter skin care products are the best choice for managing the symptoms of chicken skin as they have few side effects. The right skin care treatments can have a visible effect upon the skin, improving its texture and coloring.
Because regular exfoliation is crucial to treating keratosis pilaris, products with gentle exfoliative ingredients like glycolic acid often provide relief from chicken skin. Choose a cleanser which contains glycolic acid. This will break down excess keratin without scrubbing the skin. Cleanse twice per day using the exfoliating product as a body wash in the bath or shower to cover the areas on your body that are plagued by chicken skin.
Complement your cleanser cleanser by following with a glycolic acid treatment cream or moisturizer. Because sensitivity can occur, start with a low percentage and gradually work up to a more concentrated formula.
Toning products that contain glycolic acid are designed to minimize the appearance of your pores and balance your skin tone. Choose one that will give you additional exfoliative properties as well as natural astringents like witch hazel. Aloe leaf extract is also useful since it helps banish the redness from chicken skin bumps.
You can also opt for pre-moistened exfoliating treatment pads for the body. They help open the pores to loosen the keratin plugs that cause chicken skin. This unique treatment option provides additional benefits, such as a reduction in skin discoloration and enhanced firmness as well as tone in sagging areas.