Keratosis pilaris, sometimes referred to as KP, is a skin condition that affects up to 1 in 4 adults and almost 80% of adolescents. It’s characterized by rough bumps that are usually scattered along the legs, buttocks or upper arms, but other areas of the body may be involved too.
With KP, the skin usually feels bumpy with fine, flesh-colored bumps that are visible on the skin surface. In another type of keratosis pilaris, the bumps become red and inflamed and may resemble acne. The good news is this skin condition is harmless and is not a sign of underlying health problems. On the downside, it can be disfiguring, especially during bathing suit season when arms and legs are exposed for the world to see. That’s why most people are motivated to find a solution for this frustrating skin problem.
Keratosis pilaris is an inherited condition that’s autosomal dominant in nature, meaning if a person has one parent with KP, he or she has a 50% chance of having it as well.
People who have the gene for keratosis pilaris produce too much keratin, a protein found on the surface of skin, hair and nails. When too much of this protein is produced, it builds up around the hair follicles on the skin and forms hard plugs. These plugs have a rough, bumpy feeling similar to that of goose bumps that won’t go away. If the bumps become inflamed, they develop a red color, but they’re usually not painful and rarely itch except when the skin is very dry. The symptoms are usually worse in the winter months and when the humidity is low.
There’s no cure for keratosis pilaris, although the symptoms usually improve with age and may disappear spontaneously. In cases where the condition persists, it can usually be controlled with the appropriate products. It’s important to use these products consistently to keep KP under control.
Keratosis pilaris can be successfully treated at home in most cases using the right skin care products. It’s important to keep areas affected by KP well-moisturized since the symptoms worsen when skin becomes too dry. Running a humidifier, especially during the winter months, helps to add moisture to the air and keeps skin from drying out. Always use a mild soap for cleansing, and apply moisture two to three times a day to soften the areas roughened by KP. It’s a good idea to use an exfoliating sponge when cleansing to gently smooth away the excess keratin that causes the skin surface to feel bumpy.
Products that contain alpha-hydroxy acids such as lactic acid or glycolic acid exfoliate the surface of the skin, which helps to improve the symptoms of keratosis pilaris. Products containing urea and salicylic acid have a similar effect. They promote shedding of the outer surface of the skin called the stratum corneum so that excess cells and keratin don’t build up as easily.
Most cases of KP respond to moisture therapy, gentle manual exfoliation and chemical exfoliating treatments that contain glycolic, lactic or salicylic acid. In cases where the bumps are red or inflamed, some doctors will prescribe a steroid based cream to use for a short period of time in order to help reduce the inflammation. Topical retinoids may also be effective for treating keratosis pilaris, although some people can’t tolerate them because of side effects such as redness and peeling.
Regular exfoliation to increase shedding of the outer skin layers helps to improve skin texture and roughness. Moisturizers help to soften the skin. Using this combination of products consistently can improve the look and feel of skin with keratosis pilaris, which means you’ll be proud to show your skin again when summer comes along.