What To Do About Keratosis Pilaris AKA “Chicken Skin”

keratosis pilaris chicken skin

Are you an avid cardigan wearer? Do you pick up dresses only to realise they’re sleeveless and put them back? Do you spend your weekends wearing down the skin on the back of your arms with rough scrubs? If you are covered in tiny, sometimes itchy, little bumps, you could have keratosis pilaris.

More colloquially known as chicken skin, keratosis pilaris is incredibly common. I am asked about it all the time on social media and when I’m due to answer questions on TV. KP is usually found on the back of the arms but it can manifest itself on any part of the body. In appearance, it looks a bit like pixellated skin… very small reddish, pinkish or flesh-coloured dots that cover the affected area.

You’re most likely to find it on women and, surprisingly, children!

What is keratosis pilaris?

It all comes down to your pores (your hair follicles). Your body naturally gets rid of dead skin cells through its very own exfoliating process. If keratin is overproduced within the pore, it can become trapped there, rather than moving outwards with the shedding dead skin cells as it usually does. This causes a traffic jam within the pore, leading to keratosis pilaris.

This is not a one-time traffic jam, it is a traffic jam caused by an abnormal motorway, if you like. This tendency to overproduce keratin is passed on from generation to generation, meaning that if you have keratosis pilaris, you have it for good.

What are the signs of keratosis pilaris?

  • The signature bumpiness
  • Dryness and roughness of the affected area
  • Worsening when humidity levels drop (ie. in the Winter)

What can I do when it comes to keratosis pilaris?

There is good news and bad news. Keratosis pilaris is a life long affliction, meaning that you can’t get rid of it for good. You can lessen the symptoms and try to prevent it from happening but there is always the chance that it’ll pop back up, even if you haven’t had it for years.

The best way to face keratosis pilaris head on is a full 360˚approach, feeding the skin from within and exfoliating and soothing the outside. Exfoliating, however, does not mean using products with granules…. when does it ever mean grit on this site?!

Keratosis Pilaris in Children

When it comes to treatment of keratosis pilaris in children, many parents see the word “acid” and flee. Acid is one of the most effective exfoliators and is actually much friendlier to the skin than gritty exfoliants are. Neostrata Lotion Plus (€29.35) uses glycolic acid to unclog the pores (or hair follicles, whichever you find less confusing) of the debris that is causing the traffic jam. Glycolic acid is keratolytic, meaning that it softens keratin and helps the skin in the shedding of dead skin cells. When you soften the keratin and get rid of the dead skin cells blocking the path, you greatly lessen the visibility of the bumps and sometimes eradicate them completely, even if only on a temporary basis. Neostrata Lotion Plus is suitable for use on both kids and adults so it suits the whole family.

Another option would be La Roche-Posay’s Lipikar Baume AP+ (€13.50), which is even suitable for babies. Lipikar Baume AP+ doesn’t exfoliate, but it does hydrate with ingredients like niacinamide, AKA vitamin B3 which boosts the skin’s immunity and improves its barrier function thus aiding in the prevention of redness and blotches in the future, and shea butter, which nourishes the skin with vitamin A, E and F and calms any irritation.

keratosis pilaris chicken skin

Keratosis Pilaris in Adults

Thankfully, if you are a fully-fledged hooman, your skin can take a slightly more aggressive treatment… not aggressive, still skin-friendly, but you may see results a little bit quicker. You have heard me rave about Environ Body Essentials Pack (€100.00) before, which includes the Derma-lac Lotion and A, C & E Oil. Derma-lac lotion contains a blend of alpha-hydroxy acids to gently exfoliate the skin whilst simultaneously moisturising it… exactly what you need to treat KP. It is particularly useful for roughness on the skin, whether it be on an area affected by keratosis pilaris or your elbows or heels, as it accelerates the renewal speed of your skin, helping your skin to shed any dead skin cells a little bit quicker.

Environ A, C & E Oil is an oil infused with vitamins and antioxidants to strengthen the skin’s barrier function, protecting it from free radical damage that can exacerbate keratosis pilaris and conditioning the skin at the same time. It is the ideal skin shield from windy or cold weather, for if you do feel like braving upper-arm exposure.

IMAGE Rejuvenating Body Lotion (€41.5o) contains a high content of glycolic acid, for exfoliation, antioxidants, for protection, and peptides, for rejuvenation and soothing, so it will work away at the plugs of keratin whilst bringing down the resulting inflammation.

These are all outside treatments… so what about the inside? Taking vitamin A and omegas orally could be the step you need to add to banish the bumps! It is believed that vitamin A may have a hand in correcting the keratinisation process, stopping the follicles to become plugged in the first place, by actually slowing down the rate in which the skin gets rid of dead skin cells due to the skin cells being able to function longer.

Omegas assist in the retention of moisture in the skin, keeping it hydrated and free from KP, and strengthen the skin against environmental stressors, which may trigger the condition. Guess what I’d recommend! Of course, it’s Advanced Nutrition Programme Skin Vit A+ (€23.00) and Skin Omegas+ (€36.00). The quality and quantity of the vitamins and omegas found in ANP supplements cannot be beaten, in my eyes.

keratosis pilaris chicken skinOther Treatments for Keratosis Pilaris

If you are very conscious of your keratosis pilaris, a more intense treatment would be to have a few glycolic peels done in a specialist skincare clinic (not at home, NEVER at home… unless you are blessed enough to live with a licensed skin therapist). A glycolic peel would contain a much higher concentration of glycolic acid than the products listed above, and would exfoliate at a faster rate but it is not a long-term solution for the bumps.

A lactic acid peel may also be beneficial, and is slightly milder if you have sensitive skin.

It’s possible that you are not bothered by the bumps at all and it is the redness that is motivating you to make a positive change in your skin. In this case, IPL (intense pulsed light) may be your man, especially if your KP is accompanied by broken capillaries.

The Nerdie Recap

  • Keratosis pilaris is caused by a blockage of keratin, a structural protein, in the hair follicle (pore) and dead skin cells.
  • It is hereditary and cannot be completely eradicated but can be managed.
  • Treat with omegas and vitamin A on the inside, and glycolic and lactic acid on the outside.