What Is Keratosis Pilaris?
Keratosis pilaris is a common skin condition in which tiny bumps develop on the skin. The bumps are harmless plugs of dead skin cells and tend to appear on the upper arms, front of the thighs, and cheeks. Keratosis pilaris is frequently seen along with atopic dermatitis and ichthyosis vulgaris.
What Are Symptoms and Signs of Keratosis Pilaris?
The following are signs and symptoms of keratosis pilaris:
- Tiny, rough-feeling bumps on the skin.
- May look like goosebumps or a plucked chicken
- May resemble small pimples
- May be grouped or scattered
- Usually occur in children and adolescents, and sometimes infants
- Tend to appear on the upper arms, front of the thighs, and cheeks
- May sometimes occur on the face, trunk, buttocks, and lower legs or forearms
- May clear during the summer and recur in winter
- May appear in different colors, including the same color as the patient’s skin, as well as white, red, pinkish purple (on fair skin), and brownish black (on dark skin)
- Usually improve with age but may persist into adulthood
- May worsen during pregnancy
- Skin redness
- Often associated with other skin conditions, such as atopic dermatitis or ichthyosis vulgaris
What Causes Keratosis Pilaris?
Keratosis pilaris is caused by a buildup of keratin that forms a plug blocking the opening of hair follicles, but the cause is not fully understood. Keratosis pilaris has been associated with mutations of filaggrin, a protein that binds to keratin. It may be genetic. It is not contagious.
The following are risk factors for developing keratosis pilaris:
- A family history of the condition
- Dry skin
- Eczema (atopic dermatitis)
- Being overweight or obese
- Hay fever
- Ichthyosis vulgaris (a skin condition that causes very dry skin)
- Having melanoma and taking vemurafenib (Zelboraf), a targeted therapy used to treat melanoma that has spread
How Do Doctors Diagnose Keratosis Pilaris?
Keratosis pilaris is diagnosed with a physical examination of the bumps on the skin.
Biopsy is usually not necessary but may be performed to confirm a diagnosis and rule out other conditions.
What Is the Treatment for Keratosis Pilaris?
Keratosis pilaris may improve on its own without treatment. It is also considered a harmless condition that does not require treatment.
However, many patients have cosmetic concerns and request treatment to reduce skin roughness and redness.
Treatments for keratosis pilaris that may help relieve skin roughness, redness, and dryness on the face and body include:
- Using mild soaps or soap-free cleansers and avoiding hot baths or showers
- Gentle removal of dead skin with a loofah or at-home microdermabrasion kit
- Moisturizing creams that contain urea or lactic acid to relieve itch or dryness
- Medications to remove dead skin cells and diminish the appearance of the bumps
- Alpha hydroxyl acid
- Glycolic acid
- Lactic acid
- Retinoids (adapalene, retinol, tazarotene, tretinoin)
- Salicylic acid
Laser or light treatment may be used to treat keratosis pilaris to reduce the swelling and redness or to improve the skin’s texture and reduce discoloration
It can take time for the skin to clear, and treatments do not cure the condition. It is important for patients to continue to maintain a skin care regimen to continue to see results.
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"Keratosis Pilaris: Overview." American Academy of Dermatology Association. <https://www.aad.org/public/diseases/a-z/keratosis-pilaris-overview>.
Landis, Megan N. "Keratosis Pilaris." UpToDate.com. May 9, 2022. <https://www.uptodate.com/contents/keratosis-pilaris>.