Long ago, a common skin condition known as keratosis pilaris earned the nickname “chicken skin” given its similarity to the surface of a freshly plucked bird. Now odds are you’ve never seen a deplumed chicken … but you know it can’t look good, right?
Cleveland Clinic is a non-profit academic medical center. Advertising on our site helps support our mission. We do not endorse non-Cleveland Clinic products or services. Policy
Keratosis pilaris, or KP, typically dots your skin with discolored bumps that can be very noticeable. The itchy, rough, dry bumps may also make your skin feel like sandpaper.
The good news? KP is totally harmless, says dermatologist Alok Vij, MD.
The bad news? That doesn’t make the unsightly speckles any less annoying. KP can often clear up over time, but there are ways to reduce the symptoms for those who don’t want to wait. Dr. Vij offers some suggestions to banish the bumps.
What causes KP?
KP occurs when keratin, a protein in skin, builds up around your hair follicles. The bumps are actually collections of dead skin cells blocking your pores.
The bumps can be skin-colored or shades of white, brown or red. These splotchy spots most often form on your upper arms. But they can show up in other areas of your body, too, including your thighs and face.
KP is most common in babies, teenagers and young adults, says Dr. Vij. Sometimes, the condition has staying power and can linger into your 30s.
People with other skin conditions, such as eczema, also are more likely to develop KP. Genetics also may play a role in developing KP. High body weight or asthma could be contributing factors, too.
How to treat keratosis pilaris
There’s no cure for KP other than time, says Dr. Vij. However, there are ways to make your time with the condition a little better and the bumps a little less noticeable.
The best approach to try and smooth over a KP problem? Moisturize. Dr. Vij recommends looking for over-the-counter skin lotions and creams that feature any of the following three ingredients:
- Ceramides. These proteins help skin hold onto moisture. Moisturizers with ceramides can help reduce roughness in people with KP. (The ingredient also helps fight eczema, so it’s a good choice if you’re dealing with both skin problems.)
- Urea. Urea is a naturally occurring molecule that helps dissolve the keratin protein gumming up follicles. It’s in many drugstore moisturizers. Your doctor can also prescribe creams with a higher concentration of urea.
- Ammonium lactate. This ingredient also helps dissolve the buildup that causes KP’s bumps and redness. Ammonium lactate can be a little bit sticky, so it’s not everyone’s first choice. But if you don’t have luck with ceramides or urea, it’s worth a shot.
Take extra steps to avoid dry skin
Dry skin can make KP symptoms worse. Here are two ways aside from moisturizing to keep your skin hydrated:
- Take shorter and cooler showers. It might sound nonsensical, but spending too much time under running water can actually dry out your skin. Heat from the water strips oils from your skin. Stick to a lukewarm setting to minimize damage.
- Use a humidifier. KP symptoms often worsen over winter, when the air is drier. A humidifier can add much-needed moisture to the air when you’re in a low-humidity environment.
Avoid tight clothes
Friction is not a friend of your skin — and that’s especially true if you’re dealing with KP. Tight-fitting clothes can irritate skin and amp up KP symptoms. Try to avoid wearing garments that rub and aggravate the bumps.
Some people with KP are more bothered by the redness than the roughness — especially those with fair skin and those who have the bumps on their face. In those cases, laser treatments done in a dermatologist’s office can help fade the red, Dr. Vij says.
Tips for tackling KP
Getting rid of KP takes some patience. Dr. Vij recommends:
- Use one of the recommended moisturizers daily for four to six weeks.
- If you don’t notice improvement, try one of the other types.
- If that doesn’t work, either, you might have to combine two ingredients or see a dermatologist for a prescription-strength option.
You may need some trial and error to get rid of so-called chicken skin. And once you find a lotion, cream or treatment that works, you’ll likely have to keep using it to keep KP at bay. But with these extra steps, clearer skin can be had.