Keratosis pilaris (sometimes called “KP”) is a harmless skin condition that causes small, hardened bumps to form along the skin. It’s most commonly found on the cheeks, arms, thighs, and buttocks. Skin in affected areas becomes dry and stiff, with a texture resembling sandpaper. This could be a valuable superpower for woodworkers and carpenters, but for everyone else, it’s a condition that requires some effort to ease its symptoms.

Thankfully, keratosis pilaris is not harmful, and the extent of skin affected becomes less over time. For example, some infants will have KP on their cheeks, on the backs of the arms, on the forearms, on the thighs, and on the lower legs. By the age of 9 or 10 years old, there may only be bumps on the cheeks and backs of arms.  It has been estimated that over half of the population have this condition. Let’s take a closer look at keratosis pilaris causes, its symptoms, and possible treatments.

Keratosis Pilaris Symptoms

If you’ve ever gotten goosebumps, or gooseflesh as some like to call it, you have an idea of what keratosis pilaris symptoms look like. But unlike goose pimples (why does it have so many names?), the raised bumps associated with keratosis pilaris don’t go away. The affected skin becomes rough and dry, particularly when the air is cold or lacks humidity.

These bumps are often skin-colored but can be reddish on occasion. Apart from a mild itch, which isn’t present in all cases, there’s no pain associated with the condition, and it won’t worsen without treatment.

Keratosis Pilaris Causes

Keratosis pilaris is a perfect example of too much of a good thing. Keratin is a protective protein found in our skin cells. It gives the skin rigidity and strength, helping protect it against infections and rendering it less likely to tear. However, people that suffer from keratosis pilaris produce too much keratin. The protein builds up around hair follicles, forming a solid plug and the condition’s characteristic bumps.

You might be tempted to assume that more keratin means stronger skin, but don’t start stitching your super suit together just yet. Samurai swords, lasers, and other projectiles affect keratosis pilaris patients the same as everyone else. Sorry, Bullet Proof Boy. Your day hasn’t come yet.

These hardened bumps tend to be exacerbated by cold, dry conditions. For many people, the condition worsens in the winter and may retreat during the summer months. Doctors aren’t sure why these keratin plugs form, but they have found keratosis pilaris treatment options that can help reduce their effects.

Learn more about Keratosis Pilaris from Dr. Eddie Valenzuela

Keratosis Pilaris Treatment

There’s no cure for keratosis pilaris, but its symptoms are manageable and will likely clear on their own in time. Some people think that hard scrubbing will help reduce the size of the bumps but it will only make the bumps look more red.

Using a moisturizing skin cream for keratosis pilaris will help relieve the dryness and itchiness that can accompany the condition. Harsh cleansers can exacerbate your symptoms, so consider switching to a milder, hypoallergenic keratosis pilaris shampoo and body wash.

Dry interiors can worsen symptoms, so use a humidifier to add humidity to the air in your home. When dressing, opt for soft, loose cotton fabrics that won’t rub your skin, and try your best not to scratch.

Your doctor may recommend a few additional treatments. Topical exfoliants remove dead skin cells and can improve skin texture. However, they can burn some, so avoid them with young children.

Topical retinoids can prevent keratin plugs from forming. However, you should be aware that redness and peeling are possible. They’re also not advised for women who are pregnant, nursing, or may become pregnant.

Finally, laser treatments can reduce the redness and inflammation associated with more extreme keratosis pilaris cases.

Know that as you or your child grows, the condition will likely improve. In the meantime, pick up a nourishing skin cream that’s free of damaging fragrances and dyes, like Happy Cappy Moisturizing Cream. It will help keep your skin more supple and increase your comfort as you wait for your real superpowers to kick in.