I got to the year 2015 in my phone’s camera roll when I decided to finally call it quits. At first, it was kind of shocking to me that I couldn’t find a true “before” shot of my keratosis pilaris—the small, red bumps on my arms have been a source of insecurity since middle school. But as I continued to scroll through my archives in the name of journalistic duty, my initial frustration began to give way to understanding: From my clothing choices to subtle camera angles (and the occasional Facetune), I’ve just gotten really good at hiding the evidence of my KP.
And perhaps that’s partly because until rather recently, I had resigned myself to the fact that treating this chronic skin condition was hardly worth the effort. In addition to being incredibly common (up to 40 percent of adults deal with it to varying degrees), keratosis pilaris is quite harmless. Most of the products and techniques I’ve tried require a lot of diligence for disappointingly modest results. Since it’s much more of an aesthetic nuisance than a physical one, covering it up, even if semi-subconsciously, has always been much more convenient than slathering myself with products day and night. For me, any worthwhile treatment would have to be quick and permanent, or close to it.
Fast-forward to earlier this fall, when, while undergoing a laser hair removal treatment, I had an epiphany. Keratosis pilaris is a genetic condition that affects the hair follicle: It’s characterized by the skin producing too much keratin, which then blocks the hair follicle, resulting in those signature bumps. In other words, it’s kind of like having a bunch of tiny ingrown hairs all the time—so couldn’t laser hair removal theoretically correct the issue?
My hunch, it would turn out, wasn’t totally off-base—at least according to some light Googling and Will Kirby, MD, the Chief Medical Officer at LaserAway. “[With keratosis pilaris], hair follicles are retained in the skin and cause mild inflammation,” he explains. “As such, in some cases, patients that suffer from KP can see improvements in the condition after getting laser hair removal treatments.”
There’s the caveat: While it might help, there’s no guarantee that laser hair removal can significantly improve that bumpy skin texture. But that wasn’t going to stop me from at least giving it a try.
Read on to see how laser hair removal helped with my KP.
How It Works
A little laser hair removal 101: The laser targets melanin in the hair follicle, converting into heat that damages the follicle and prevents future hair growth. Since keratosis pilaris affects the skin around the hair follicle, laser hair removal isn’t exactly a home run treatment for eliminating KP entirely. “KP can be genetic but it can also be associated with pregnancy, diabetes, and atopic dermatitis, so sometimes the best treatment for KP is to treat the underlying condition," says Kirby.
But since KP can cause a lot of ingrown hairs—which make the bumps look worse—it stands to reason that eliminating that hair growth would at least help smooth things out a little, right?
Pros and Cons of Laser Hair Removal for KP
As stated above, laser hair removal is thought to help KP because it stops hair growth, therefore, decreasing the coiled ingrown hairs that cause the bumps. Many people have great results and will see fast results that last. It is important to note, however, no studies are showing that laser hair removal can cure KP, so it may not work for everyone.
Even though laser hair removal is safe for most, the Mayo Clinic says there are some risks depending on a number of factors— including your skin color, hair color, and skin type. Some people may experience skin irritation including redness and swelling. Other side effects include pigment changes or excessive hair growth, especially for people with darker skin tones. Talk to your doctor to make sure laser hair removal is a good fit for you.
It is also important to note that laser hair removal requires multiple treatments and, depending on the size of the area treated, and it can get quite expensive.
After two treatments at LaserAway (which has the double benefit of having top-notch staff and a location very close to my home) my arm hair has been reduced to soft peach fuzz—and my skin, while not perfectly smooth, is certainly less angry-looking. As fate would have it, my smooth-armed technician has also dealt with KP, and reassuringly told me during my first appointment that she saw improvement through laser hair removal almost right away.
Again, I’ve gotten laser hair removal before, so the treatment itself feels relatively routine. My technician marks off my arms with chalk (which makes it easier for her to track each area and also avoid my tattoos, which can be damaged by the laser), and does a single pass over each arm. For those curious about what it feels like, imagine the sensation of a staticky shock or a rubber band snapping on your arm—not particularly painful, but not exactly enjoyable either.
Either way, as I took my first set of progress photos—proudly flashing my arms for the camera for the first time in (apparently) a long while—I was pleasantly surprised when my first instinct wasn’t to open Facetune, but Instagram. I toggled right past the filters and tapped “share,” remaining bumps and all.
Products That Can Help
If you are not quite ready to leap into laser hair removal, several products can help KP. The American Academy of Dermatology Association (AAD) says that creamy moisturizers can relieve the itch of KP, while both physical exfoliation (like with a loofah) and chemical exfoliation, using products with lactic acid, alpha hydroxy acid, and retinoids, can diminish the bumps.
One great option is First Aid Beauty's KP Bump Eraser Body Scrub ($28). The glycolic and lactic acid help diminish the bumps, while the pumice buffing beads help to decongest your pores.
CeraVe SA Lotion For Rough & Bumpy Skin ($19) contains hyaluronic acid and ceramides to moisturize and soften skin, while the salicylic acid and lactic acid will exfoliate and smooth the bumps. This lightweight moisturizer packs a punch to help improve skin texture and diminish KP.
This Glytone KP Kit ($68) contains a two-step process to help improve skin texture, moisturize and smooth out the side effects of KP. It contains the Glytone Exfoliating Body Wash to help diminish bumps, followed by the Exfoliating Body Lotion to soften and soothe itchy skin.