Our skin is a wondrous thing, the largest organ on our body. We spend an obscene amount of time obsessing, admiring, and lamenting over it—especially when it tends to act in a way we don’t understand (or agree with… Curse you, stubborn zit).
Case in point: keratosis pilaris. Two strange and slightly scary-sounding words that could explain why you’ve been getting those tiny, rough bumps in patches on your arms and legs. But how do you know for sure? To help you avoid getting sucked into an internet black hole, we got our resident skin expert and celebrity esthetician, Renee Rouleau, to school us on this common skin condition—including how to get rid of it for good.
Keep scrolling for the 411 on keratosis pilaris.
What Is It?
Keratosis pilaris a skin condition that causes small bumps and rough patches on areas of your body, like your arms, thighs, cheeks, and more. It’s sometimes called “chicken skin,” which should give you a pretty good (if somewhat unpleasant) idea of what it looks like. “Keratosis pilaris occurs when dead skin cells and a protein in the skin, called keratin, build up and block the hair follicles,” Rouleau says. “These are tiny red or white bumps [that occur] in patches—it’s very common and completely harmless.”
Why Do You Get It?
Those of you who may suffer from keratosis pilaris know that no matter how harmless it is, it’s still a pain to deal with. So why do some people have it while others can bare their smooth, bump-free arms? “Why some people will get it and others won’t is unknown,” Rouleau says. “However, genetics seem to play a role, especially for those with lighter, fair skin.” She says that in most cases, it usually appears during the first decade of your life but can start to disappear for most people in their mid-30s—good news!
Keratosis pilaris is often confused with a bunch of other skin conditions, so make sure you know what sets it apart. “If you’ve had it since your childhood, it doesn’t itch, and is pretty consistent year-round, then it’s a strong indication that it’s this condition,” Rouleau says. “Contact dermatitis, a skin rash caused by topical allergens that can sometimes look similar, will come and go, while keratosis pilaris is there all the time.”
Onto the question we’ve all been wondering: Is it treatable? Yes, if you use the right products. Rouleau says that doing certain things like exfoliating will help decrease its appearance but not necessarily get rid of it completely. Here’s her recommendation: “Combining physical exfoliants (like scrubs) and chemical exfoliants (any product that has glycolic acid) will soften and smooth away even the driest, roughest, bumpiest form of keratosis pilaris.”
Rouleau says to squeeze a mild shower gel onto a loofah next time you shower, then scrub the affected area in circular motions for two minutes. After your shower, apply an exfoliating serum that contains a powerful percentage of glycolic acid—she recommends her eponymous line’s AHA Smoothing Serum 20% ($49). Then, just follow with your favorite body lotion.
Repeat this process every other day, and you’ll keep bumps to a minimum and reveal smoother, softer skin with less redness.
If this method doesn’t seem to be improving your condition, Rouleau suggests considering a bio brasion treatment.
Avoid at All Costs
There are certain things in your skin routine that could be making your keratosis pilaris worse. Rouleau says to avoid any topical drying products like acne washes or anything with salicylic acid because they will encourage more dead skin cells to build up on the surface and add to the bumpy look. Other things to avoid? Bar soap and foaming cleansers (all too drying, according to Rouleau).
Like we mentioned earlier, there is some good news: Keratosis pilaris can go away on its own as you age—Rouleau says during your 30s, to be exact. Until this happens, unfortunately, it’s unlikely anything you do will make it go away permanently. “If you’re consistent about exfoliation, however, it should improve considerably!” Rouleau says.
Do you have keratosis pilaris? Have you tried any other methods that have worked? Sound off below!
This post was originally published at an earlier date and has since been updated.