Keratosis Pilaris (aka Chicken Skin) – How to get rid of it

by | Jan 4, 2017

What is KP?

Keratosis Pilaris (KP for short) is the medical term for those annoying, red spots and rough white bumps, typically found on the back of arms. KP looks a lot like plucked chicken skin and can also show up on thighs, face and sometimes butt cheeks.  If you are lucky enough not to have it, you most likely know someone who does, as it affects 40-50% of us at some point. It is very common and harmless, but not so nice to look at and VERY stubborn to treat.

What causes it?

It is usually genetic, but can sometimes be triggered (or even cleared up) by hormonal changes, like pregnancy. It’s caused by the skin’s inability to exfoliate a protein called keratin, the key element in the outer layer of our skin. It is what makes our skin waterproof and is also what makes up our hair and nails. Normally, this layer of proteins should slowly flake away like dust. However, for some of us, our skin can’t exfoliate the keratin, so it begins to harden and plug up our hair follicles, which then become red and inflamed.  All of this creates that lovely chicken skin look.

How can I get soft, smooth skin?

Many people assume that the redness and bumps are severely dry skin, so they keep applying moisturizers and then get frustrated when it never clears up. In fact, KP is more like acne than dry skin. Instead of the follicles getting plugged with sebum (oil), they become plugged with Keratin. The trick to stopping this cycle is to help your skin EXFOLIATE so that the bumps can’t form in the first place.

Keratosis Pilaris is usually chronic and you may never completely get rid of it. BUT you can make it quite a bit less noticeable if you are willing to put in a little time and effort.

Here is our recommended plan to treat KP. You will have to experiment with these treatments and figure out the regimen that works best for your skin. Once you have cleared up your KP, make sure to keep treating it regularly, or it may be back before you know it.

Physical Exfoliation:

When: 3-4 times per week, more if required

How and Why: At the end of your shower or bath, when the keratin has softened and your pores are open, take a rough textured scrubby and exfoliate. If treating the face, be very gentle. Some find they need tougher exfoliation for the arms and legs. Start with a gentle, non-comedogenic (not pore clogging) body wash. If you are finding that your KP is stubborn and your skin is tough, use a body or face wash designed for acne. These products contain exfoliating acids, like Salicylic, Glycolic or Lactic acid.  Apply a gentle moisturizer that is non-comedogenic. Coconut oil works great as well.


Chemical Exfoliation:

When: 3-4 times per week, more if required

How and Why: If your KP is not getting better, try a lotion with exfoliating acids in it (same ones as above). They will exfoliate the top layer of your skin, while providing some moisture. Warning: these lotions may sting a bit right after you have exfoliated. Try applying them later that day, or on non-exfoliating days.

Other methods to try:

Laser Hair Removal:  Laser Hair Removal is believed to help some people with their KP on the arms and legs. The theory is that since the laser destroys the hair, the follicles are empty and therefore harder to plug up with keratin.

For more info on Laser Hair Removal, click HERE.

Topical Vitamin A:  Also called Retinoids, Tretinoin, Retin-A or Retinol, among others. Vitamin A applied topically speeds up the cell renewal in skin. This renewal is very helpful for KP as it prevents the build-up of the Keratin in the follicles (Hyper-keratinization).  Whenever you are using a Retinoid product, they key is to make sure to let your skin warm up to it SLOWLY, especially your face. Start with 1-2 times per week and slow down if your skin becomes red and flaky. Sun protection is also a MUST, as this ingredient will make your skin photosensitive and greatly increase your chances of burning.

Retinoids are also fantastic for acne, anti-aging and treating sun damage, just make sure to speak with a professional before using them.

You may need only a couple of these ideas, or you may have uber stubborn KP and need to do a combination of them all. Figure out the treatment that works best for you and if you keep up with it, we promise you can make a major difference in your KP.

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