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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. Also, you can reduce the inflammation that occurs quite frequently in KP with supportive skincare additions like soothing shea butter and redness-eraser niacinamide—both of which can easily be found in daily moisturizers. And what if those annoying little bumps aren't responding to over-the-counter products? There are plenty of accessible spa-grade treatments with higher concentrations of chemical exfoliants to choose from too.
Ahead, the best lotions and treatments for keratosis pilaris, for limbs, hips, faces, and more.
Best Overall: CeraVe c
Contains salicylic acid
Exfoliates and moisturizes
Available at most major drugstores
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.
Active Ingredients: Salicylic acid, ceramides, hyaluronic acid | Skin Type: Dry | Size: 8 fl. oz | SPF: No | Cruelty-Free: No | Byrdie Clean: No
What Our Testers Say
"As someone who doesn’t always take the time to moisturize from the shoulders down post-shower, using this nightly has been a gamechanger for my skin. Not only have the dry patches on my legs, elbows, and heels disappeared, but the texture on my back has started to smooth." — Bianca Lambert, Product Tester
Best With Lactic Acid: Perrigo Ammonium Lactate Lotion
Contains 12 percent lactic acid
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.
Active Ingredients: Lactic acid | Skin Type: Dry | Size: 14 fl. oz | SPF: No | Cruelty-Free: No | Byrdie Clean: No
Best Drugstore: AmLactin Daily Moisturizing Body Lotion
12 percent lactic acid
May sting sensitive skin
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.
Active Ingredients: Lactic acid | Skin Type: Dry, sensitive | Size: 8 fl. oz | SPF: No | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: No
Best Extra Strength: Glytone KP Kit
Moisturizes with allantoin and vitamin E
Contains parabens and sulfates
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.
Best Budget: Eucerin Roughness Relief Lotion
Doesn't contain glycolic acid
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.
Active Ingredients: Urea, shea butter | Skin Type: Dry | Size: 16.9 fl. oz | SPF: No | Cruelty-Free: No | Byrdie Clean: Yes
Best Lightweight Formula: SKINCEUTICALS Body Retexturing Treatment
Not Byrdie Clean
“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.
Active Ingredients: Hydroxyethyl urea, hydroxyethylpiperazine ethane sulfonic acid, niacinamide | Skin Type: All | Size: 6.7 fl. oz | SPF: No | Cruelty-Free: No | Byrdie Clean: No
Best Rich Formula: Skinfix Resurface+ AHA Renewing Cream
Exfoliates with sugar cane & fruit extracts
On the expensive side
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.
Active Ingredients: Coconut oil, shea butter, willow bark extract | Skin Type: All | Size: 10 fl. oz | SPF: No | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: Yes
Best Scrub: First Aid Beauty KP Bump Eraser Body Scrub
Exfoliates and soothes skin
Mini size available
Easy to use
Should be used in moderation
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.
Active Ingredients: Glycolic and lactic acids | Skin Type: All | Size: 2 / 8 fl. oz | SPF: No | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: No
What Our Editors Say
"This scrub is intense. Packed with AHAs and BHAs, I use it twice a week to keep my KP and body acne in check. Nothing makes my skin quite as smooth, but if you have sensitive skin, make sure to use it sparingly." — Kathryn Vandervalk, Editorial & Strategy Director
When it comes to dealing with the frustrating bumps and roughness caused by KP, we’re giving top honors to a drugstore favorite, CeraVe's SA Lotion for Rough & Bumpy Skin. It’s equally exfoliating and hydrating thanks to salicylic acid and hyaluronic acid, while ceramides help to strengthen the skin’s barrier. Lactic acid (and other AHAs, at that) are also great for smoothing out the skin, and the Perrigo Ammonium Lactate Lotion is an effective yet super gentle option. It's also fragrance-free, so you can count on it to not further irritate inflamed skin. For those suffering from more intense KP, the Glytone KP Kit is a great option to look into. It includes both an exfoliating body wash and an exfoliating lotion, which combat bumps while evening out tone and texture.
What to Look for in a Keratosis Pilaris Treatment
When it comes to an effective treatment for keratosis pilaris, Greenfield says to look for formulas that contain keratolytic ingredients, which help break apart the keratin buildup on skin cells and allow for exfoliation to take place. “Ingredients like glycolic acid, ammonium lactate, and lactic acid provide this benefit while also restoring the optimal pH of the skin for healthy functioning,” she says. Urea and retinoids are also common keratolytic ingredients used in KP treatments.
Non-Comedogenic, Oil-Free, and Fragrance-Free Formulas
Look for formulas that are both oil-free and non-comedogenic. This way, you can rest easy knowing your treatment won't end up causing more clogged hair follicles or pores—or worse, bring acne and blemishes into the mix. Also look for fragrance-free formulas, as fragrance can further irritate rough and bumpy skin.
Dry skin can further exacerbate KP, so opt for formulas that'll hydrate the skin in addition to treating it. Look for lightweight, humectant moisturizing ingredients such as hyaluronic acid and glycerin, which bind moisture to the skin without clogging pores or leaving behind a greasy residue.
What causes keratosis pilaris?
Greenfield explains that keratosis pilaris is a condition where dead skin—particularly keratin, a protein found in the skin—builds up around hair follicles instead of being naturally exfoliated away. “This causes small, rough bumps to appear around the hair follicles,” she says. It’s not entirely clear why this buildup of keratin occurs, but it’s thought to be associated with genetic diseases or skin conditions such as atopic dermatitis. Dry skin also tends to intensify the symptoms of keratosis pilaris.
Is keratosis pilaris easy to treat?
Unfortunately, Greenfield says that keratosis pilaris is actually quite difficult to treat. “There are many products that will improve the appearance of keratosis pilaris if used consistently twice daily for a few months at a time, but this is oftentimes difficult for someone to do,” she says. “The results may also not be a complete resolution of the symptoms, but rather just an improvement.”
Does keratosis pilaris itch?
Greenfield says that keratosis pilaris may be itchy for some, but for the most part, people only find it to be “cosmetically annoying.”
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.
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.