Understanding keratosis pilaris
Chicken skin, officially known as keratosis pilaris, is a very common, harmless, genetic condition that causes small, hard, skin colored to reddish bumps, most often on the back of the arms. "Skin feels like 'chicken skin' or sandpaper, and it is oftentimes mistaken for small pimples," says Samer Jaber, MD, of Washington Square Dermatology. "It can also affect the thighs and buttocks of adults and cheeks of young children." Over 50 percent of all children and teenagers, and 40 percent of all adults have some degree of keratosis pilaris (KP), so if you've experienced it, you're certainly not alone. Keratosis pilaris is thought to occur from an excessive buildup of keratin around hair follicles, which may trap and prevent them from reaching the surface, causing bumps on the skin. "Unfortunately, there is no cure for keratosis pilaris, but it usually improves when you reach adulthood, and by our 20s most people will have seen a significant improvement," Dr. Jaber says. "It's also better in the summer, and worse in the winter, when skin is dryer." (If you're experiencing seasonal dryness, check out these surprisingly helpful secrets to fighting dry skin.) In the meantime, there are many treatments that can drastically, if not fully, reduce the appearance of your red bumps.
Choose the right cleansers
If keratin is blocking those hair follicles, you'll need to exfoliate that top layer of dead skin cells to see improvement. "For more moderate to severe cases, moisturizers that exfoliate with ingredients like salicylic acid, glycolic acid, urea, or ammonium lactate can be effective," Dr. Jaber says. "My personal favorite over-the-counter exfoliating moisturizers are Amlactin and CeraVe-SA. Exfoliation with a loofah in the shower can also be helpful." (To make sure you're not drying your skin even more as you bathe, here's the healthiest temperature for your shower, according to science.)
Add topical treatments
The next level of treatment is a topical moisturizer that continues the exfoliation process. A great over-the-counter option is ACGLICOLIC Classic Body Milk by Sesderma, with 10 percent glycolic acid, an alpha-hydroxy acid that thins the stratum corneum, the outermost layer of the epidermis that's made up of dead cells, plus Boswellic acid, which is anti-allergic, anti-inflammatory, and analgesic. A budget option is Skinfix Renewing Cream, with a natural form of salicylic acid to exfoliate, bisabolol and shea butter to soothe redness, plus jojoba, grapeseed, and sweet almond oils to soften and hydrate rough patches. If you're ready for the big guns, talk to your doctor about an Rx remedy. Dr. Jaber often recommends a combination of a prescription salicylic acid 6 percent cream in the morning, with a topical retinoid cream in the evening. "Topical steroid creams can also be used if the skin is red and itchy," says Dr. Jaber. Retinoid creams are excellent at preventing dead cells from clogging pores, treating oil production, nixing bacteria that causes breakouts, and calming inflammation. A few commonly prescribed steroid creams are Locoid Lipocream and Cloderm, which treat inflamed, red rash areas.
Try out a pro peel
A professional peel, which is more powerful than any topicals, can kickstart major healing. Dr. Jaber recommends 20 to 30 percent glycolic acid peels, which damage skin in a controlled manner. By using chemicals to cause tissue death, glycolic acid peels essentially get rid of your old bumpy skin, and then, by creating a superficial wound, stimulates your body's natural healing process. As your new skin grows, you are likely to see improved appearance and texture.
Get laser hair removal
If there's a lot of thick hair in the affected areas, laser hair removal might help, according to Dr. Jaber. Intense Pulsed Light (IPL) lasers are typically used to remove hair at the follicle level, but by stripping your skin of pore-blocking keratin, laser hair removal can also improve KP. In one study, published in the Journal of Dermatological Treatments, all keratosis pilaris patients who underwent laser treatments reported improved lesions and overall satisfaction with their results. These are the other powerful benefits of laser treatment therapy.
To reduce redness, try Pulse-Dye Lasers
If your keratosis pilaris is also splotched with red pigment that bothers you, consider going in for KTP or Pulse-Dye Lasers. Pulse-Dye Lasers emit short bursts of concentrated, high-intensity yellow light to destroy targeted tissue. The light kills the blood vessels, but leaves surrounding skin undamaged, meaning this treatment is safe and won't lead to long-term skin damage, though it does requires multiple treatments. In one study, all participants with keratosis pilaris reported marked improvement in their skin after Pulse-Dye Laser treatments.
Go the natural route
If you prefer treating your body with entirely natural methods, coconut oil has been found to noticeably reduce the appearance of chicken skin. This keratosis pilaris treatment is perfect for anyone who wants to start their treatment immediately, since you probably already have this ingredient in your kitchen. Coconut oil has anti-inflammatory properties, hydrates dry skin, soothes itching, and contains healthy vitamins. (To find out how else you can cleverly use coconut oil, check out these surprising beauty uses.)
Adjust your diet
A great way to begin healing your body of any ailment is to make healthy lifestyle changes. By adjusting your diet to include more magnesium, an underrated mineral that's involved in hundreds of your body's functions, you may notice improved appearance of your KP-affected areas. Of chief interest to KP sufferers, magnesium and also zinc play an important role in combatting dry or itchy skin. Check out the clear signs that you're not getting enough magnesium.