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Keratosis Pilaris: Treat Those Bumps on the Back of Your Arms

If you have little red bumps in patches on your upper arms, backside, or thighs that resemble chicken skin and occasionally itch, you probably have a genetic skin disorder called keratosis pilaris (KP). Much like acne, this skin disorder affects 50-80% of adolescents and roughly 40% of adults though no one knows exactly why.

Those prone to eczema, asthma, and allergies are more likely to be afflicted with keratosis pilaris. Also, up to 50% of those who struggle with keratosis pilaris have a family history of it. With our help, you may be able to finally say "Bye-bye chicken skin!"

In This Article:

What's This Chicken Skin All About?

Keratosis pilaris has a few different forms: It can range from pink to red bumps on the cheeks to small red bumps that aren't irritated, to pimple-like bumps that are inflamed and red. Overall, regardless of the type, these bumpy rough spots are clogged pores where skin cells have become hardened inside the pore and inflammation occurs. Regrettably, there is no available cure or universally effective treatment, though it is generally well accepted that unclogging pores and reducing inflammation can make a significant difference. (Source:

The Best Ways to Get Rid of the Bumps

Exfoliation to unclog pores is at the top of the list of treatments. Alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs, active ingredients would be lactic or glycolic acid) can help exfoliate skin cells, but these only work on the surface. AHAs can't get inside the pore to dislodge the plug of skin and sebum.

To get to the root of the problem you need a beta hydroxy acid (BHA) product with the active ingredient salicylic acid and a pH low enough for exfoliation to occur. One other interesting aspect of BHA is that it has antimicrobial properties so it kills the bacteria that may be making matters worse. Plus, because salicylic acid is related to acetyl salicylic acid it also has anti-inflammatory properties. Salicylic acid is a brilliant answer to eliminating these red bumps. Paula's Choice Resist Weightless Body Treatment with 2% Beta Hydroxy Acid, or Skin Perfecting 2% BHA Liquid are ideal products to eliminate keratosis pilaris.

If you find that your keratosis pilaris does not respond well to salicylic acid, you can consider an AHA product that contains glycolic acid or a product with both BHA and AHA. Keep in mind that ongoing application of such products is required to keep keratosis pilaris under control. If you stop using products that have proven effective, the condition will return.

What Else Works?

Because keratosis pilaris is an inflammatory disorder, anything you can do to reduce inflammation is going to help a great deal. Avoiding drying soaps and cleansers is essential, plus the ingredients that put bar cleansers in their bar form can clog pores and make matters worse.

It is also critical to not scrub at the skin. You can't scrub away these red bumps and scrubbing skin doesn't get to the problem which isn't on the surface. Rather, it's underneath where scrubs, washcloths, bath puffs, and loofahs can't reach. If anything, scrubbing further inflames skin and the ingredients that keep most body scrubs from being too abrasive clog pores.

Lasers for Keratosis Pilaris

If topical treatments aren't working to resolve your keratosis pilaris (and keep in mind you'll need to use treatment products for at least a few weeks) you may want to consult a dermatologist about laser treatments for KP. Various options are available, including photopneumatic therapy (PPx), intense pulsed light (IPL), pulsed dye laser, long-pulsed alexandrite laser, and the Nd:YAG laser (Sources: The Journal of Dermatological Treatment, August 2013, pages 318-322; Journal of Drugs in Dermatology, July 2013, pages 804-806; Journal of Cosmetic and Laser Therapy, June 2013, pages 150-154; and June 2011, pages 120-122).

Laser or light-emitting treatments have an impressive-to-decent rate of improvement, most notably for persistent redness and, in those with darker skin tones, brown spots from where the bumps used to be, plus overall surface texture improvement. Lasers and light-emitting treatments are one more option in the battle against those pesky red bumps--and for stubborn or recurring cases that don't respond well to topical treatments, they can be well worth the time and money.

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