Ah, “chicken skin”—how I detest thee. If there could be a queen of skin conditions, a crowned winner in having ~*The Worst Case* ~ of a thing, that would be me; I would be your reigning champion of keratosis pilaris (aka “chicken skin,” aka a phrase I hate, because I am a human). Keratosis pilaris, FYI, is the clinical name for the rough, red bumps on the back of your arms…or thighs, or butt, or face. …Or all four! Like I have! Because I am a beautiful QUEEN!
Even though literally 40 percent of adults have keratosis pilaris to some degree—meaning you are very much not alone—I would wager only 1 percent of adults have it has severely as I’ve had it since birth. After decades of dermatologists telling me I’d grow out of it with puberty (I didn’t), or that it would get better with age (it didn’t), or that it would fade in my 20s (it just spread to my face instead), I am officially an at-home expert on all things KP.
If a treatment exists, I can assure you I’ve tried it. I’ve tested every single DIY recipe, every wacko internet “cure,” and every prescription and over-the-counter product to help my keratosis pilaris. I’ve read every Reddit thread, decoded every medical study, and pestered every dermatologist I’ve ever met for answers. So if you’re going insane trying to get rid of your bumpy arms and skin, I get it. I’ve been there. I live there. So please allow me to give you a big hug, sit you down, and tell you about the keratosis pilaris treatments that can really, truly help.
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What is the cause of “chicken skin”?
“Keratosis pilaris is caused by excess keratin building up in your hair follicles, leading to hard, red, little bumps on your skin,” says dermatologist Mona Gohara, MD, associate clinical professor at Yale School of Medicine. Annoyingly, no one knows exactly why KP happens in the first place, though.
“There are theories about keratosis pilaris being a disorder of the hair follicle, or related to the sebaceous glands, or hormonally driven,” says dermatologist Mary Thomas, MD, who has authored multiple studies on keratosis pilaris, making her a bumpy-arm expert. “But we still don’t know enough, so research now needs to be at the cellular level to figure out the exact gene that causes KP,” she says.
Saaaadly, research costs money. And money isn’t exactly being funneled into harmless, yet annoying, skin conditions, so our hopes of a cure being discovered any time soon are…slim. Ugh.
How do you get rid of “chicken skin” or keratosis pilaris?
I know this isn’t what you want to hear (and neither do I), but because your keratosis pilaris is part of your DNA, you can’t ever fully cure it or get rid of it. I know. That’s not to say you can’t manage it, though—the most effective at-home KP treatments are a combo of chemical exfoliants to dissolve the bumps and rich moisturizers to soften skin—but these treatments are only effective as long as you use them. “As soon as you stop, your bumps will come right back,” says Dr. Thomas.
Can laser treatments get rid of keratosis pilaris?
Again, nothing can truly get rid of your KP, but in-office laser treatments can significantly reduce the redness and/or the bumpy texture on your body or face. “I haven’t found any topical treatment to be all that effective for the redness, so if that’s the main concern for a patient, I’ll recommend IPL—Intense Pulsed Light—laser treatments, which target and constrict red vessels in the skin,” says Dr. Thomas. Patients usually need 3-6 treatments spaced a month apart, and treatments can cost $400+ per session.
“If a patient’s main concern is the roughness, then I usually try laser hair removal,” says Dr. Thomas. It’s theorized that trapped hair coiled in the follicle can contribute to KP bumps on the body (not so much the face, womp), so “if you destroy the hair completely, that can’t happen anymore,” she says. The pricing and number of sessions you need varies depending on where you’re getting it (both location-wise and body-wise), but you can expect at least $300+ per session and 4-6 treatments spaced six weeks apart.
Does keratosis pilaris go away?
KP often goes away on its own when teens go through puberty or as adults age into their 20s and 30s. Of course, you’re looking at someone who failed both of those metrics, so it’s not a guarantee. Luckily, with the right products, you can likely reduce the appearance/feel of your keratosis pilaris within a month, as long as you’re hella consistent with a daily regimen (really). Also, know that KP will ebb and flow: It can get rougher in the winter, smoother in the summer, and inflamed with stress and hormones, which is why you need to be consistent with a routine.
Which brings us to the good stuff! Below, the only nine products that have ever helped my keratosis pilaris.
Best Gentle Body Scrub for Keratosis Pilaris
First Aid Beauty KP Bump Eraser Body Scrub
Please, please don’t try scrubbing the hell out of your KP—it won’t work. “Exfoliating with harsh scrubs or loofahs can actually create more inflammation and dryness, making your keratosis pilaris way worse,” says Dr. Gohara. Instead, once a week, gently massage an AHA-based (alpha hydroxy acid) body scrub over your wet skin (body only) in the shower, letting it sit for 60 seconds before rinsing off. I swear by this glycolic- and lactic acid-spiked formula for my bumpy arms and thighs—so much so that we gave it a Cosmo beauty award this year.
Best Body Scrub for Keratosis Pilaris
DermaDoctor KP Duty Body Scrub
DermaDoctor’s body scrub walked so every other KP product could run. Before First Aid Beauty developed their Bump Eraser formula (aka the product before this one), I religiously used DermaDoctor’s KP Duty all over my arms, thighs, and butt, since its mix of glycolic, lactic, and azelaic acids help buff away dry patches while chemically exfoliating my bumps. It’s not quite as gentle, though, so if you have ultra-sensitive skin, try Bump Eraser instead.
Sulfur Soap for Keratosis Pilaris
Sal3 Sulfur Soap Bar
So you know how your keratosis pilaris is made of built-up keratin (i.e., the same stuff in your fingernails)? Welp, sulfur is a keratolytic agent, meaning it works to dissolve the bonds in your keratin plugs, helping them to shed faster. This sulfur-based soap ain’t pretty, and it smells a bit like rotten eggs, but it is my first step of every shower, especially since it has a dose of salicylic acid (another keratolytic agent with redness-reducing properties).
Gently rub it over your wet skin (only on the KP on your body—this stuff is drying), wait 10 seconds, then rinse off. Don’t worry, the egg smell will dissipate.
AmLactin Lotion for Keratosis Pilaris
AmLactin Daily Lotion
You can’t talk about keratosis pilaris without mentioning this OG staple—it’s pretty much the only answer I’ve ever gotten to “how to get rid of keratosis pilaris.” The formula is filled with 12 percent lactic acid that helps dissolve your keratin plugs while also moisturizing your skin. It really, truly works, but only if you use it every day on your body until the world ends. It’s kinda sticky, though, so during humid months, I usually slather this on at night, or just switch to the lightweight Paula’s Choice 10% AHA lotion in the summer.
Glycolic Lotion for Keratosis Pilaris
Paula’s Choice Body Lotion 10% AHA
…aka this lotion right here. Unlike the AmLactin cream, which has 12 percent lactic acid, this lotion is filled with 10 percent glycolic acid, a stronger AHA that does the exact same thing: breaks down your keratosis pilaris bumps and smooths skin. Because this lotion is super lightweight and not at all sticky, I usually rub it over my arms and thighs in the morning, wait five minutes, then top with sunscreen (note: all of these acid-filled products make your skin extra sensitive to sunburns, so you need to wear sunscreen every single day if you have KP).
Retinol Cream for Keratosis Pilaris
Advanced Clinicals Retinol Cream
Not gonna lie, my arms are currently itching from this retinol cream, so make sure to use it only once a week, not two nights in a row like I did. Still, although it’s strong, it’s worth it: Retinoids speed up your cell turnover and help your skin shed faster, making it harder for keratin plugs to form in the first place, says Dr. Gohara. Retinol isn’t as effective for keratosis pilaris as AHAs are, but this cream definitely helped neutralize my redness once I started swapping it in for my AmLactin one night a week.
Lactic Acid for Keratosis Pilaris on the Face
The Ordinary Lactic Acid 5% + HA 2%
The only thing more annoying than KP on your body? KP on your face. It’s rare, especially for adults, and yet here I am, living my best red, bumpy-cheeked life. I’ve spent a lifetime (literally) trying to destroy my facial KP, and here’s what I’ve learned: Use only the gentlest of acids, never scrub, and keep your skin as moisturized as possible. This 5 percent lactic-acid-based serum is the gentlest AHA I’ve found, and its hyaluronic-acid base keeps skin hydrated. I dab it on clean, dry skin every other night, wait 60 seconds, then layer on a rich, gentle moisturizer (Avène Tolerance Extreme Cream FTW).
CBD Serum for Keratosis Pilaris Redness
Flora + Bast Age Adapting CBD Serum
Hokay, I am truly the biggest skeptic of topical CBD, because (1) most CBD skincare is poorly regulated, and (2) studies are still limited on how effective it is (though there’s tons of evidence that it’s magical for inflammation). But this serum-oil formula is basically the purest, simplest, least-risky form of CBD skincare, and it’s also the only topical product that has ever helped with the redness on my cheeks from my KP. I use it nightly on clean, dry skin (after my lactic acid, but before my moisturizer), and, if I use it consistently, it tones down my redness by about 30 percent. Which, when you’re hopeless like I am, is huge.
Moisturizer for Keratosis Pilaris on the Face
The other huge game changer for the keratosis pilaris on my face? This Elta MD moisturizer. It’s not really a moisturizer—it’s an occlusive, aka something that traps hydration into your skin like a seal, making your regular moisturizer more effective. After slathering on a thick layer of my normal face cream, I smooth this over my KP while my skin is still “damp.” It’s incredibly shiny and almost greasy-looking, so I only use it at night, but trust me—this stuff works.
I know—it’s a ton of steps and products, but if you follow a routine consistently, your keratosis pilaris/“chicken skin”/bumpy bumps will start to smooth out within a few weeks. Promise.
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