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Derms call it keratosis pilaris, you likely call it KP or chicken skin or those annoying bumps that crop up the back of your arms. By any name, it’s an unsightly condition that can be frustrating and tough to get rid of. It occurs when keratin—a protein in the skin—builds-up within the hair follicle, causing small, rough bumps to appear on your arms, thighs, butt, or even face, explains Chicago dermatologist Emily Arch, MD.
Take heart in knowing that it’s both super common and the root cause is largely genetics, though the bad news is that there’s no real cure. The good news? There are plenty of treatments that can at least help, says Arch. One of the most common: Daily use of an exfoliating lotion to help keep the keratin from clogging the hair follicles and to smooth out the texture of the skin.
Ahead, the best lotions and treatments for keratosis pilaris that do exactly that.
Arch gives this formula props for being equally exfoliating and hydrating, thanks to the addition of salicylic acid and hyaluronic acid, respectively. On top of that, it also contains three different skin-strengthening ceramides for barrier repair. It’s great for those who have KP and have really dry skin, who need both exfoliation as well as deep moisturization, says Arch. And if you feel like you need even more moisture, there’s also a heavier, cream variant as well.
Exfoliating lotions that contain alpha-hydroxy acids are choice for helping to combat KP, says Arch; this particular formula touts a 12% concentration of lactic acid, one of the gentlest yet most effective AHAs out there. Plus, because it’s fragrance-free, it’s less likely to irritate skin that might already be red or inflamed from KP.
Lactic acid is an alpha hydroxy acid that works to exfoliate the skin. Its molecule is slightly larger than glycolic acid, meaning it works a bit slower and doesn't penetrate the skin's outermost layer as easily.
Per the point of lactic acid being a choice ingredient, this one also boasts a hefty dose of the good stuff. “This lotion is always a favorite,” says Arch. “ It’s a gentle exfoliating treatment that’s suitable for all skin types and has an appealing lightweight texture,” she adds, noting that you can use it either once or twice per day.
Dermatologist Dr. Nava Greenfield, of Schweiger Dermatology Group in Brooklyn, NY, is also a fan, noting that it’s very similar to a prescription cream she often recommends.
For those with pretty intense KP, Arch suggests using an exfoliating body wash in the shower, followed by applying an exfoliating lotion. She’s a fan of this set, which contains both. “Even my patients who haven’t found relief with other over-the-counter products tend to respond well to this easy-to-use kit,” she says. Along with helping to combat bumps, the high glycolic content in this formula also helps to even out both skin tone and texture, she adds.
Shea butter is a plant lipid that comes from African shea tree nuts and is rich in fatty acids, antioxidants, and vitamins. It's used to help moisturize, nourish, and soothe the skin.
“This contains urea, another alpha-hydroxy acid that’s highly effective at breaking up keratin plugs and also helps the top layers of the skin retain moisture,” explains Arch. Bonus points for the addition of creamy shea butter to soften and hydrate dry spots, as well as the very wallet-friendly price.
“Along with urea, this formula also contains amino sulfonic acid, which helps stimulate the skin's natural ability to exfoliate and shed dead skin cells,” says Arch of another one of her picks. The addition of niacinamide is also noteworthy since it both helps strengthen the skin barrier and combats any redness and inflammation that often occur with KP. Thanks to a super light gel texture, it’s great for summer or for anyone who doesn’t love the feel of thicker lotions or creams.
It’s not only alpha-hydroxy acids that can be beneficial for treating keratosis pilaris; Arch says beta-hydroxy acids, such as salicylic, can be good, too. This rich cream—which Byrdie Editorial Director Faith Xue and Byrdie Senior Editor Hallie Gould both love—uses AHAs and willow bark extract (a natural alternative to sal acid) to do the exfoliating duties. It’s fragrance-free but still has a nice, naturally-derived scent.
Ok, so this isn't exactly a lotion for KP, but it's still a great treatment in moderation. If you have keratosis pilaris, proceed with caution when using scrubs. Aggressive physical exfoliation can cause KP to become inflamed and ultimately worsen the condition, warns Arch.
One exception to the rule? This formula. “The gentle physical exfoliators are combined with both glycolic acid and lactic acid for simultaneous chemical exfoliation, and the formula is nourishing to avoid irritation, she says.
Why Trust Byrdie?
Byrdie contributor Melanie Rud has over a decade of experience in the beauty industry, writing for some of the biggest magazines and websites out there. She doesn’t have KP but has covered the topic extensively, and asks her friends and family member who do have it try the KP products she recommends.
Meet the Expert
Emily Arch, MD, is a board-certified dermatologist at Dermatology + Aesthetics in Chicago. She specializes in general and medical dermatology, with an emphasis on inflammatory skin conditions.
Meet the Expert
Nava Greenfield, MD, is a board-certified dermatologist at Schweiger Dermatology Group in Brooklyn, NY. She’s been published in many medical journals and is a member of the American Academy of Dermatology, Women’s Dermatologic Society, and the American Medical Association.
According to our Diversity Pledge, 15% of products in our newly-published market roundups will feature Black-owned and/or Black-founded brands. At the time of publishing, we were not able to find any lotions for keratosis pilaris from a Black-owned and/or Black-founded business. If you know of one we should consider, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org and we will evaluate the product ASAP.