Keratosis pilaris, better know as KP can look like acne or goosebumps. While many people call it chicken skin, you don’t have chicken skin. And as KP does not pose any danger, it’s completely up to you if you want to treat it. If you have it, but perhaps don’t find it aesthetically pleasing, there are things that you can do about it. But remember, KP is not the same as acne even though they look similar. So, if you’ve been using benzoyl peroxide wash for those tiny bumps on your body, KP might be the reason it’s not working.
Keratosis pilaris shows up as these red or sometimes white bumps that normally happen on the back, the arms, the glutes, the thighs, or the cheeks. They’re not usually painful but they can be itchy especially if you have dry skin and eczema. Dry skin can make them worse. That’s why a lot of people have flareups in the winter when humidity lowers and when the air gets dryer.
During this time, KP might feel like sandpaper, and here’s why. We have pores and keratin all over our skin. Keratin is a protein within the skin, and KP is a disorder that results from too much keratin production (hyperkeratinization). The protein clogs up the little hair follicles, and it creates a hardened plug around each hair that is growing. Your body creates so much of this protein that your body can’t shed it quickly enough, so it builds up and creates this bumpy appearance.
So, where did you get it? Where did it come from, and how can you make it go away? KP is still kind of a mystery, but there’s this idea that KP is a genetic dominant trait. Likewise, even if one out of your two parents has it, you’re going to have it. It might not show up on you, but you can still carry it genetically. Moreover, if you do have eczema or dry skin, this can exacerbate KP. However, KP is not dangerous. Other than how you might perceive its appearance - it’s really not a problem.
But if you would like to treat it, there are specific products to mitigate how it looks and feels.
The best way to treat KP is chemical exfoliants. If you think about it, KP is a buildup of dead keratin so if we exfoliate that off, we can refresh and recreate smooth skin. We can get rid of the extra keratin that our skin can’t handle naturally.
There are also physical exfoliators such as gentle scrubs and loofahs. It’s helpful to point out that if you’re using a loofah, don’t combine a chemical exfoliator and intense rubbing because this can cause a lot of irritation and redness. Chemical exfoliants are effective without scrubbing, and here are a few to chose from.
Chemical exfoliants like alpha hydroxy acids are the first choice. AHAs are water soluble, and not only do they exfoliate the top layer of skin, but they also act as humectants. This means they can hold onto water and moisture. While KP appears on more dry-skinned people, it’s great to give the skin back its moisture when it comes to treating KP. Glycolic and lactic acid seems to be the best. They are the most well-tolerated, effective, and safe to use on all skin colors and types. Given that glycolic acid has one of the smallest molecules and can therefore penetrate really deep, you should always patch test when it comes to over-the-counter glycolic acid products. Moreover, because glycolic acid penetrates so deeply, it can get can act as an exfoliator and a humectant hydrator.
Dr. Sandra Lee MD also recommends that you “use glycolic acid to help with KP or things like razor burn. Glycolic acid is a strong surface exfoliator. It’s the same ingredient that dermatologists use in chemical peels for the face and body. This helps exfoliate the skin and minimize any existing bumps on the surface of the skin and lighten discoloration.” Here is a glycolic body scrub as well as a glycolic acid body lotion that she formulated made specifically for people with KP.
The SLMD Body Smoothing System -$65
The glycolic acid body scrub and the lotion are sold as a set. A lot of people are afraid of scrubs because they don’t want to cause micro-tears in their skin or wash microplastics down the drain. The beads are safe for sensitive skin, and they actually dissolve upon giving a slight physical exfoliation to the skin. While the beads are a gentle physical exfoliator, the real powerhouse is the glycolic acid. Because it’s a really small molecule, that AHA exfoliates the dry bumpiness, but it also adds a little bit of extra hydration since glycolic acid is water-soluble, pulls it into the skin (humectant).
The body scrub also has lactic which works great with AHAs. It has willow bark extract too which can be turned into salicylic acid by the skin. Additionally, it has camilla census leaf extract or green tea. Green tea is an excellent antioxidant that supports the skin. It can really help to soothe things out and calm inflammation.
This body lotion can help exfoliate too, but it’s also got shea butter which is an amazing moisturizer as well as sodium hyaluronate, a hydrator. Sodium hyaluronate is related to hyaluronic acid, an ingredient that is a humectant. If you have dry skin, it’s great to have water in another product that the sodium hyaluronate can draw from and keep in the skin. This is a great way to ensure that your skin is staying moisturized.
Dr. Sandra Lee created these two specifically for people with KP to ensure that skin is exfoliated but not overly stripped. You can use the lotion twice daily, but preferably after the shower. As soon as you get out, apply this because it’s going to lock in moisture and prevent your skin from losing moisture through transepidermal water loss.
Dr. Sandra formulated the lotion with scrub because when we exfoliate, we’re actually removing that top layer of skin or stratum corneum. But just because you exfoliate doesn’t mean that you’re done. You have to moisturize that new layer of skin. Moisturizing after exfoliating is what’s going to keep dryness and bumpiness away. As for exfoliation, you can also use salicylic acid which is a BHA.
Paula’s Choice Salicylic Acid - $29.50
This has salicylic acid and willow herb. Salicylic acid minimizes oil, but remember that oil waterproofs the skin and keeps it moisturized. KP is more associated with dry skin so you might not want to use an acid or chemical exfoliant that could potentially dry it out more. You have to see what your skin likes best but from a medical perspective, almost everyone starts with glycolic because that’s what usually works best for people.
These are a few ways to treat keratin pilaris, but remember KP has no impact on your ability to change the world, you don’t need to change who you are, and you are still beautiful inside and out.
For a video explanation of keratosis pilaris, click here.