Keratosis Pilaris, That Rough and Bumpy Skin!

It’s summer time and that means tank tops and shorts are coming out!

I love summer and I love summer clothes but for some, thinking about bearing your skin may cause some anxiety. Skin that is red, rough, bumpy, and has a sandpaper feel to it is a condition called keratosis pilaris and affects approximately 40% of adults, including my husband!

Keratosis pilaris is that rough, red, bumpy skin usually on the upper arms, thighs or buttocks. It doesn’t itch or hurt, it is just a nuisance for some. If it doesn’t bug you, leave it alone. There are no health concerns associated with, it is completely benign (aka, harmless). For those of you bothered by its appearance, there is not a cure but there are some treatments to help.

What does keratosis pilaris look like

What is Keratosis Pilaris?

Keratosis pilaris is a build up of keratin in the hair follicle. This causes the follicle to become plugged, appearing red and giving a sandpaper feel to it. We don’t now the reason the keratin builds up, although there is likely a genetic component to it. We do know that having dry skin makes it worse.


Again, it is a completely benign process so leave it alone it doesn’t bug you. To help minimize the appearance, there are creams that can reduce the bumpy texture and decrease the redness, making the skin appear less rough.

  • First, you want to choose a cream that has some acid in it to help remove the layers of dead skin. Creams that contain alpha lipoic acid, urea, lactic acid, or salicylic acid will all help accomplish this. These are ingredients common to acne products so looking for body or face creams targeted at acne will help you choose an appropriate product.
  • The acid generally causes redness or flaking of skin, so start by applying once per day, or every other day if you have sensitive skin. As you become used to the product, increase to 2 times per day.
  • These creams are topical exfoliants are generally safe so you can use it as often as you tolerate them, just remember they will cause flaking and redness again if you are using too much.

What to do for a Special Event?

If the creams are not helping, then getting a product that prevents the follicle from clogging is the next step. Vitamin A derivatives are prescribed by your doctor, and come in oral or topical formulations. For this condition, you should only be using a topical Vitamin A derivative. Also, you should not use Vitamin A derivatives if you are pregnant, nursing, or planning to become pregnant soon. These products will cause some sensitivity, peeling, redness, and light sensitivity so start slow and increase use as tolerated, avoiding direct sunlight to the area. These products work very well but are generally only used for a short period of time. So if you know you have an event coming up, speak to your dermatologist 3-6 months in advance.

Can It Be Cured?

Like I said before, there is no cure so your skin will only be helped by these products while using them. Once you stop, it will return. The condition will generally last for years, many people will notice it begins to resolve after the age of thirty, but many people will have this condition throughout adulthood.

Here are some recommended over-the-counter products:


Amlactin (purchase at CVS or other drugstores), Reviiva Skincare MD Keratosis Pilaris, KP Elements body scrub, First Aid Beauty Ultra Repair Cream (available at, and Avène Akerat Smoothing Exfoliating Cream.

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