What Are My Treatment Options for Keratosis Pilaris?

Find out everything you need to know — straight from the experts.

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Understanding changes in your skin is the first step toward treating them. We all know it's important to nourish your skin with products that target your concerns. And when your skin suddenly changes — like if new dry, bumpy patches pop up out of nowhere — you deserve to have the tools and knowledge to treat it.

Keratosis pilaris (KP) is a skin condition that comes and goes and isn't anything particularly serious, but it is something you probably want to handle. The bumpy skin is easy enough to treat, and we spoke with three board-certified dermatologists to break down everything you need to know.

What Is Keratosis Pilaris?

Keratosis pilaris is a common skin condition that's generally marked by rough bumps, sometimes appearing like acne. According to the Cleveland Clinic, it's a dry skin condition that about 40 percent of adults will experience in their life, though it tends to be more common in children.

"The bumps are rough to the touch and usually appear in small clusters on various parts of the body, especially on the upper arms, elbows, thighs, and buttocks," says Dendy Engelman, MD, a board-certified cosmetic dermatologist in New York City.

What Are the Causes of Keratosis Pilaris?

Though keratosis pilaris is characterized as dry skin, it isn't necessarily a result of actual dryness. "Keratosis pilaris is caused by a buildup of keratin that blocks hair follicles on the skin, and while it is harmless, it is characterized by fine bumps and dry patches," says Corey L. Hartman, MD, an Alabama-based dermatologist and founder of Skin Wellness Dermatology.

That being said, dryness can contribute to the appearance of this condition, though it isn't the initial trigger. If you have blocked hair follicles and aren't exfoliating, this will increase the keratosis pilaris, as the exfoliation can help open up pores and remove dead skin cells so your hair can grow.

Dr. Hartman notes that some harsh soaps, detergents, and fabric softeners will also dry out the skin and exacerbate keratosis pilaris.

VIDEO: The Best Skincare Routine for Acne, According to Dermatologists

What Are Treatment Options For Keratosis Pilaris?

Since keratosis pilaris gets worse when the skin is dry, you should regularly moisturize and exfoliate to lessen the appearance of the condition. This isn't something you necessarily need to cure, but you can tame the redness and bumps.

Dr. Hartman likes to recommend the Glytone KP Kit as an aid in treating keratosis pilaris. "This is a one-two punch — it uses glycolic acid to gently exfoliate skin in both the body wash and the body lotion," he says. "The glycolic is gentle enough for sensitive skin."

Elizabeth Mullans, MD, a Houston-based dermatologist and founder ofUptown Dermatology, shares that you want to look for specific ingredients in skincare products to treat keratosis pilaris. "Anti-inflammatory steroids are used to treat this condition," she says. "Medicated creams that contain urea, lactic acid, alpha hydroxy acid, or salicylic acid also help."

She notes that your laundry detergent can also make a difference in the appearance of keratosis pilaris. "I like Arm & Hammer Sensitive Skin, Free & Clear, which is specifically formulated for sensitive skin and dermatologist-tested. It's perfect for washing clothes and not having to worry about skin irritation from different textures and materials."

Dr. Engelman suggests getting different products to target your face and body, as your skin differs in each place. "Lord Jones Bump & Smooth CBD Body Serum is formulated with a blend of four acids that helps eliminate dead skin cells, along with squalane, bisabolol, and ceramides, which hydrate and smooth skin," she says, recommending it for your whole body.

For your face, though, she suggests reaching for Elizabeth Arden Visible Difference Skin Balancing Exfoliating Cleanser, as it gently buffs away dead skin cells and blockages while retaining a balanced, hydrated skin barrier with a vitamin E derivative and glycerin.

And the last piece of the puzzle to treating your keratosis pilaris is to simply keep your skin hydrated beyond skincare products. "Use a humidifier as often as possible to provide a favorable environment for the skin so that it can hold onto moisture more easily," Dr. Hartman says.

What Are Mistakes People Make When Trying to Treat Their Keratosis Pilaris?

If you spot keratosis pilaris bumps on your skin, your first thought may be to pick at them or scrub them off — but don't. This can make your keratosis pilaris worse, especially if you're scrubbing your skin in a hot shower, as Dr. Mullans says hot water will only dry out your skin more.

Dr. Hartman also cautions against using a loofah, noting that exfoliation should be done very gently to prevent irritating your skin. And while exfoliation is necessary to make sure your pores are open and clear so the hair can come through, you want to make sure you're also hydrating in conjunction with exfoliation. Only focusing on exfoliating and clearing the bumps without nourishing the skin is a prime mistake Dr. Engelman sees people make. "If you over-exfoliate and neglect to moisturize the skin, KP won't go away."

"Paula's Choice BHA 9 Treatment is a potent leave-on exfoliant that works wonders to smooth rough, bumpy skin that needs both a gentle sloughing and a boost of moisture," Dr. Hartman says. "The best part is that it achieves the goal without irritating or over-drying the skin." By pairing this with a rich moisturizer, you can help lessen your keratosis pilaris without further irritating your skin.

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