What Is Keratosis Pilaris (Also Known As Chicken Skin)?

January 20, 2016 by Lisa Fogarty
shefinds | beauty

If you have to ask what it is, chances are you’ve never had to deal with an infamously stubborn skin condition so bothersome and loathed that it’s commonly referred to as “chicken skin.” Keratosis pilaris is the official medical term for a harmless, but annoying genetic disorder that leaves some of us with small bumps on our skin, oftentimes on the outer upper arms and thighs. It can also sometimes affect the buttocks and even face, a place you’ll often spot it on children.

There’s good news and bad news when it comes to keratosis pilaris. The good? You aren’t doing anything to cause it, so don’t spend a second more feeling guilty. You also may be able to take steps to prevent it, but–here comes the bad–there is no magic wand you can wave to cure keratosis pilaris.

“Keratosis pilaris (KP) is a genetic disorder of keratinization/dry skin of hair follicles of the skin,” says Dr. Jill Waibel, owner of the Miami Dermatology & Laser Institute. “It is transferred as autosomal dominant, so 50% of children inherit it from their parents.”

Waibel says keratosis pilaris is often lumped in with other dry skin conditions including eczema and xerosis, and like these, there is no cure for it, though it often improves with age. One note of caution, though: dry weather and pregnancy tend to exacerbate the condition.

As far as treatments are concerned, your local drugstore is your oyster, as Waibel says she recommends “mild soap-less cleansers” such as Dove, CeraVe, and Cetaphil and stresses the importance of constant lubrication. Mild exfoliation twice weekly is also a good idea to help slough away dead skin cells.

If all else fails, Waibel says therapeutic options for more involved cases of keratosis pilaris include lactic acid lotions (AmLactin, Lac-Hydrin), topical steroid creams (triamcinolone 0.1%, LocoidLipocream) and retinoic acid products such as tretinoin (Retin-A), tazarotene (Tazorac), or adapalene (Differin).

If you’re not sure where to begin or feel you have a particularly aggressive KP case on your hands, visit your dermatologist who can set you on the right path to a treatment that works for you.

For more beauty tips, check out should you wear makeup while you work out? and the one thing you should consider when putting on lip balm.


Lisa Fogarty is a lifestyle writer and reporter based in New York who covers health, wellness, relationships, sex, beauty, and parenting.

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