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Noticing a new skin condition or problem can be frustrating and at times alarming. What did it trigger? Is your normal skin care routine no longer working? Do you need to fill your vanity cabinet with new products to make it better? It can feel like you're a detective trying to figure out what's going on and what's the culprit.
One skin condition that can be particularly confusing and annoying is keratosis pilaris. It is this dry, bumpy skin that can be rough and even look like tiny pimples. It is common but can often seem difficult to treat or banish. If this sounds like something you're dealing with, I asked the experts for some tips so you can clear it all up.
First of all, it's important to understand exactly what keratosis pilaris (KP) actually is. "Keratosis pilaris is a chronic condition with dry, bumpy skin," said board certified dermatologist Ife Rodney, MD, FAAD, of Eternal Dermatology and Aesthetics. "The skin around the hair follicles has an excess of keratin and dead skin cells. This build-up can lead to rough, sometimes scaly mounds or bumps. While KP usually occurs on the upper arms, thighs, and buttocks, it can affect the entire arms, legs, or bumps as well Face. It can be distressing because of its appearance, but KP is not dangerous and does not signal internal illness. "
This is where things get tough – no one really knows the root cause of KP, but we do know it occurs when dead skin cells clog pores, according to board-certified dermatologist Flora Kim, MD, FAAD. While it can happen any time during the year, Rodney says flare-ups occur in the colder months when the humidity drops. People in colder climates may be more prone to CP. Indoor with the heater on can further dry out the skin and make the condition worse.
There is also evidence that it occurs in families and is considered genetic. "It's more common in people with a history of eczema or excessively dry skin," says Dr. Joyce Imahiyerobo-Ip, FAAD, owner of Vibrant Dermatology and Dr. SkinBar. "Most cases start in childhood or adolescence and resolve in the early 30s." You can also experience KP if you have asthma or ichthyosis vulgaris. Jennifer MacGregor, MD, a board certified dermatologist at Union Square Laser Dermatology, says she has even seen multiple cases of flare-ups in women in the early postpartum period after having children.
KP is a common and harmless skin condition, but there may be situations when you might want to see a doctor. MacGregor recommends seeing a dermatologist if you find it is bulky, if there is suppuration, or if it is tender. There is also a variant of KP called inflammatory KP. "This is an inflammatory skin condition characterized by tiny bumps on the face that can be very itchy," explains Imahiyerobo-Ip. "You will also often see traditional CP on the arms. Inflammatory CP is a disease that requires medical management by a board-certified dermatologist."
Kim adds that there are some rare conditions that could mimic the appearance of KP. "If something supposed to be benign is extremely persistent and worsening, please see your dermatologist to make sure nothing is camouflaging as KP," she suggests.
There is no cure for KP, but in many cases it will go away in your 30s. While there is no magic solution, there are a few things you can do to manage it that the experts outlined for us:
Take a short, warm shower. Long, hot showers will rid the skin of its natural oils, Rodney says.
Use a humidifier at home. This will help in drier months.
Avoid harsh soaps. "These soaps contain surfactants that strip the skin and damage the protective skin barrier. Instead, I recommend using a moisturizing soap like the white pigeon bar that directly moisturizes the skin," says Rodney. You should also avoid scrubbing the area with a coarse paste or loofah, as these won't work and could even worsen KP, MacGregor adds.
Avoid fragrances. This can be a problem if you're allergic or sensitive to fragrances, MacGregor says.
Moisturize. "Moisturizing your body is vital for people with KP and is non-negotiable," says Rodney. "Do this straight out of the shower and reapply during the day when the skin feels dry." Reach for moisturizers with glycerin, lanolin, or petroleum jelly. Rodney also recommends ammonium lactate or urea based creams, which can help break the KP plugs.
Peeling. "To minimize the bumps, it's important to exfoliate regularly but gently," says Kim. "I recommend exfoliating weekly and continuing when the keratosis pilaris is not active to prevent it from reoccurring. After the exfoliation, it is imperative to use a very generous amount of a rich, moisturizing moisturizer every day, immediately Consistency is key. "For exfoliants, Imahiyerobo-Ip recommends salicylic acid, glycolic acid, or lactic acid.
Avoid tight clothing. This can create friction in the area where you have KP, Rodney says.
Use sunscreen. This is a must for everyone, but it's especially important if you have KP. "Use mineral sun protection because redness and bumps can turn brown or darker with UV exposure," says MacGregor.
Try laser treatments. "Since redness can be associated with this, I recommend combining laser treatments to mix the color with a light chemical peel (lactic acid) to help smooth the skin," says Dr. Roberta Del Campo, certified dermatologist.
Microdermabrasion. Other office treatment options include microdermabrasion and chemical peels. "While microdermabrasion removes the keratin plugs with a diamond pen, chemical peels use stronger acidic solutions to break them down," says Rodney.
Prescription Treatments. Your dermatologist may also recommend a prescription product like a medicated cream or moisturizer that contains alpha and beta hydroxy acids to help break up the excess keratin, Rodney adds. You may even be prescribed a retinoid to help cell turnover.