What is keratosis pilaris?
Keratosis pilaris (KP for short) is a common, harmless skin condition that can cause dry, rough patches and tiny bumps, often on the upper arms, thighs, cheeks, buttocks, and occasionally the face. KP is caused by the buildup of keratin, which is a hard protein that makes up your hair, skin, and nails. When there’s a build up of keratin, it blocks the opening of hair follicles, causing patches of rough, bumpy skin that we call keratosis pilaris.
KP typically looks like a bunch of little, raised bumps that are red or pink in color, but there are multiple symptoms of KP, so it can look quite different from person to person.
Some common symptoms of keratosis pilaris:
- Painless, tiny bumps (upper arms, thighs, cheeks, buttocks or face)
- Dry, rough skin in the areas that have bumps
- Bumps that feel like sandpaper
- Slight pinkness or redness around bumps (sometimes this can be quite severe looking)
- Itchy, irritable skin
It’s not exactly clear what causes keratin buildup in certain people. Some dermatologists think that it may be due to a genetic predisposition. What we do know is that keratosis pilaris seems to appear and get worse when the skin is dry. This is why your KP might flare up more in the winter months when there’s less moisture in the air and then may clear up in the summer. Other possible factors include hormonal changes, especially for girls going through puberty and women during pregnancy, and being born with fair skin (which makes KP more likely).
What makes keratosis pilaris worse?
We know that the main driver of keratosis pilaris is having dry skin, but here are some other factors that can contribute to your KP flare-ups:
- Scratching: Scratching at the bumps or rubbing your skin roughly can cause hyperpigmentation and scarring - don’t do it!
- Hot, long showers: Spending too much time in the shower under hot water can make KP worse because it dries out your skin.
- Tight Clothes: Wearing tight clothes can cause more KP bumps because the friction of the clothes can inflame the hair follicles and cause irritation.
What makes keratosis pilaris better?
Unfortunately, there is no permanent cure for keratosis pilaris, but there are some tricks to keep it at bay. The main thing to remember is that KP gets worse when your skin gets dry, so make sure you exfoliate and moisturize the skin, especially in those dry winter months. Here are some tips for treating your keratosis pilaris:
- Warm, short showers: Taking shorter showers or baths with warm water rather than hot will help seal in moisture instead of drying you out.
- Chemical exfoliation: Gently exfoliating the skin daily with a chemical exfoliant can help slough off keratin plugs that are responsible for forming KP. NOTE: Do not scrub your skin harshly with a physical exfoliator or scrub brush. This will only irritate your KP even more.
- Moisturizer: Apply a hydrating, non-comedogenic moisturizer generously on the skin. This can be done up to twice daily.
- Humidifier: Use a humidifier to add extra moisture to the air in your home to avoid drying out your skin.
Natural treatments for KP
Okay, so you can’t completely cure keratosis pilaris, but there are some seriously badass ingredients that are amazing at clearing it up. Just remember: KP needs a 50/50 balance between exfoliating and moisturizing in order to slough off that excess keratin while still sealing in the moisture.
Here are some must-haves for treating keratosis pilaris:
AHA (alpha hydroxy) Acids
Alpha hydroxy acids are serious game-changers for people struggling with KP! These gentle acids are chemical exfoliators, which means that they remove dead skin cells and clogged hair follicles from the surface of the skin to reveal new, healthy skin underneath. Here are a few highly effective alpha hydroxy acids to try:
- Lactic Acid (8-10% in the product)
- Mandelic Acid
- Salicylic Acid
- Glycolic Acid
- Sulfonic Acid
Finding a good moisturizer can be an uphill battle sometimes. There are so many out there and so many that contain sneaky, pore-clogging ingredients. You want to keep your skin hydrated without feeling greasy or weighed down - we know the drill! Here are some of our favorite moisturizing ingredients that can really help with keratosis pilaris:
- Panthenol: Another name for this ingredient is pro-vitamin B5. Panthenol is ultra-moisturizing and skin smoothing - a perfect combo for pesky KP!
- Niacinamide: A form of vitamin B3 that prevents acne, is super moisturizing and ultra brightening.
- Allantoin: This is a keratolytic agent, which means it helps soften and smooth the skin all while shedding dead skin cells.
- Aloe: We all know aloe for its healing properties. It’s an antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, super soothing, and incredibly moisturizing.
Helpful products for keratosis pilaris
Here’s a few products that are super helpful for clearing KP:
- Amlactin Daily: This everyday moisturizer contains clinically proven 12% lactic acid to boost the skin’s natural renewal process through gentle exfoliation. It leaves skin feeling smooth & hydrated.
- Touch KP Exfoliating Lotion: This Keratosis Pilaris treatment has two key ingredients: glycolic acid that exfoliates away surface bumps and oil soluble salicylic acid which can go deep into hair follicles and pores to target the source of KP, reducing inflammation and redness.
- Almond Clear’s New KP Lotion (coming soon): Our formula will be perfect for sensitive and acne/folliculitis prone skin.
The big takeaway
Although keratosis pilaris cannot be totally cured, you don’t have to live with it forever. Just remember to find products that assist in keeping a 50/50 balance of exfoliation and hydration, and you should be good to go!