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.)