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Seeing patches of little red or white bumps on the outside of your upper arms, thighs, or backside? You probably have a skin condition called keratosis pilaris. Also known as KP or “chicken skin,” this disorder affects 50-80% of all adolescents and almost half of all adults, though no one knows exactly why yet.
KP isn’t considered a serious or harmful medical condition, though we’re sure you’d rather be rid of these bumps! Read on to find out how you to finally get rid of that chicken skin!
Research has shown there is a genetic component to KP, with 50% of those struggling with it having a family history of it. Those prone to eczema, asthma, and allergies are also more likely to be afflicted with keratosis pilaris. (Source: http://emedicine.medscape.com/article/1070651-overview). Keratosis pilaris has a few different forms: It can range from pink to red bumps on the cheeks (often mistaken for acne) to small red bumps that aren’t irritated, to pimple-like bumps that are inflamed and red.
Regardless of the type, all forms are the result of the buildup of keratin, a hard protein that protects skin from infection and harmful external substances. The keratin forms a plug that blocks the opening of the hair follicle, resulting in patches of bumpy skin. (Source: http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/keratosis-pilaris/basics/causes/con-20025750)
Regrettably, there is no universally accepted treatment for chicken skin, though it’s generally well accepted that unclogging hair follicles and reducing inflammation can make a big difference. (Source: http://emedicine.medscape.com/article/1070651-treatment)
The best way to get to the root of the problem is by using a beta hydroxy acid (BHA) leave-on exfoliant with the active ingredient salicylic acid and a pH low enough for exfoliation to occur. BHA is a wonderful multi-tasker because it gets beyond skin’s surface to exfoliate pores and has antimicrobial properties to kill bacteria that might be making matters worse. Plus, because salicylic acid is related to aspirin (aspirin is acetylsalicylic acid), it acts as an anti-inflammatory agent. Products containing BHA at an effective pH, such as Paula's Choice Resist Weightless Body Treatment with 2% Beta Hydroxy Acid, or for stubborn bumps, Resist BHA 9, are ideal for helping eliminate KP. For a convenient, on-the-go option, Paula’s Choice Clinical KP Wipes work well. You can find more recommendations on our list of Best BHA Exfoliants.
What about alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs)? AHAs can help exfoliate skin cells, but only at the surface. However, they are an option for those whose keratosis pilaris does not respond well to BHA treatment. For best results, look for an AHA with glycolic or lactic acid (these may also be combined in the same product).
It’s important to keep in mind that ongoing application of such products is required to keep KP under control. If you stop using them, the condition will return.
If topical treatments prove ineffective after a few weeks of daily use, you might want to talk to a dermatologist about laser treatments. Several options are available, including photopneumatic therapy (PPx), intense pulsed light (IPL), pulsed dye laser, long-pulsed alexandrite laser, and the Nd:YAG laser (Sources: The Journal of Dermatological Treatment, August 2013, pages 318-322; Journal of Drugs in Dermatology, July 2013, pages 804-806; Journal of Cosmetic and Laser Therapy, June 2013, pages 150-154; and June 2011, pages 120-122).
Laser or light-emitting treatments have an impressive-to-decent track record for improving KP, most notably for reducing redness and, for those with darker skin tones, brown spots left behind by bumps. They also improve skin’s overall surface texture. If topical treatments don’t work, a lot of people find these alternatives can be well worth the time and money!
Because keratosis pilaris is an inflammatory disorder, reducing inflammation is going to help a great deal. You can do this by avoiding bar cleansers and bar soaps, since the ingredients that keep them in their bar form can clog pores and make matters worse.
It’s also important not to scrub skin. These bumps can’t be scrubbed away because the problem isn’t at the surface. Scrubbing only serves to further irritate and inflame skin, making matters worse. Ditch the body scrub and loofah and use gentle cleansers and moisturizers to keep skin smooth.
Armed with this information, you’re now ready to do battle against keratosis pilaris – and win!
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Paula Begoun is the best-selling author of 20 books on skin care and makeup. She is known worldwide as the Cosmetics Cop and creator of Paula's Choice. Paula's expertise has led to hundreds of appearances on national and international television including:
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