Keratosis Pilaris

Keratosis pilaris, also known as “chicken skin”, is a skin disorder that presents as papules with follicular involvement and redness around the papules. These show up on the extensor surfaces of the upper arm and thighs.

Last Updated: February 26, 2024

Teenagers are usually affected, approximately 50–80% while 40% of adults also have keratosis pilaris.

The exact reason why some people develop this condition is unknown but experts say that genes may affect the risk of getting keratosis pilaris. With eczema, keratosis pilaris is more likely. Eczema creates discolored, itchy spots that come and go over time.

Keratosis pilaris is characterized by small, rough, discolored bumps that appear in clusters, much like the polka-dotted skin of a strawberry. These bumps are the primary sign but some other symptoms include:

  • Sensitive or flaky skin, most commonly on the upper arms, legs, and buttocks
  • Discoloration and increased visibility of the pimples brought on by irritation
  • The skin around the pimples is rough and sandpaper-like
  • The bumps are more severe when the air is drier

Keratosis pilaris is a clinical diagnosis that is based on the patient's history and the results of a physical exam. A dermatoscope can closely inspect skin spots and identify the possible cause of the problem. With this, any scaling or redness that occurs with the bumps can be better appreciated and problems with the hair follicles involved can be seen. The hair shafts can be thin and short, coiled, or buried in the most superficial layer of the skin. 

Treatment

Keratosis pilaris is a condition that does not hurt and usually gets better over time. Because of this, there is no need to treat the disease but patients can help their skin lesions go away by taking care of their hygiene, using hypoallergenic soaps, and not touching the papules. 

Keratosis pilaris can be treated with topical medicines. Some of the topical treatments are moisturizers and keratolytics. Either salicylic acid lotion 6% or urea cream 20% will make the skin appear better. There is also laser treatments, retinoids, and vitamin D3 derivatives that are used less often. However, it may still take a while for the bumps to go away even if you get proper treatment.

Keratosis pilaris is unavoidable but it does go away on its own, for most people by age 30. Keratosis pilaris can be less noticeable if skin is taken care of and not letting it get too dry.

References

Pennycook KB, McCready TA. Keratosis Pilaris. [Updated 2022 Jun 27]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2022 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK546708/

Cleveland Clinic (2022). Keratosis Pilaris. Retrieved December 13, 2022, from https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/17758-keratosis-pilaris

Last Updated: February 26, 2024