I’m not sure when we decided to call actual skin conditions by cutesy names, like “chicken skin” and “strawberry legs,” but here we are. And if you are here, I’m guessing that you’ve been searching for cure for those dark spots and/or red dots covering your legs (you know, kiiiinda like the seeds that cover a strawberry?). So to help you out—and help you learn the real, non-cutesy facts about your skin condition ASAP—I turned to board-certified dermatologist Sophia Reid, MD, to help explain exactly WTF strawberry legs actually are, along with how to treat them.
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Why do I get “strawberry legs”?
First, let’s clear something up: “strawberry legs” isn’t a scientific or technical term. Shocking, I know. As Dr. Reid puts its, “strawberry legs” is a term broadly used to describe the appearance of legs that have red dots at the hair follicles, which can be caused by a few different things:
- Keratosis pilaris
If your red or brown dots are also accompanied by little red bumps, you’re most likely dealing with keratosis pilaris, or KP (i.e., the same rough bumps you probably have on the backs of your arms). Keratosis pilaris is most common in people with dry skin or eczema, says Dr. Reid, and is caused by excess keratin building up in your hair follicles. Usually, most people with lifelong “strawberry legs” are actually just dealing with keratosis pilaris—which, annoyingly, is genetic.
If you’ve got sudden, acne-like bumps around your thighs or butt, you might really have folliculitis—i.e., inflammation of the hair follicle due to friction. These little red dots have a white-tipped bump (like a classic pimple), though they usually don’t affect all of your hair follicles uniformly. So if you’re dealing with all-over dots—like, every single hair follicle on your shin and thigh looks dark or red—you’re likely dealing with KP, not folliculitis.
- Something else entirely
If it’s not keratosis pilaris or folliculitis, Dr. Reid says maybe what you’re experiencing is the leaking of tiny capillaries right under the skin. Or maybe red moles. Or maybe razor burn. Or maybe a dozen other things. Sorry, but the only way to be sure of what you’ve got without Google Image-searching yourself into a black hole is to ask a dermatologist. “It can be hard to differentiate the causes of your red dots on your own, and because all the treatments are different, you’ll need to see a board-certified dermatologist to be certain,” Dr. Reid says.
How do you get rid of “strawberry legs”?
Again, the treatment depends on the cause, so the first step to getting rid of your “strawberry legs” is to see a board-certified dermatologist to determine the reason for it. If you are dealing with keratosis pilaris or folliculits, you can try breaking down the bumps and smoothing skin with a chemical exfoliant, like a salicylic acid lotion or glycolic acid-based body wash. Just note that keratosis pilaris is in your DNA, so there’s no cure for it—only management.
Another tried-and-true standby? Lactic-acid lotions, which gently exfoliate rough skin while hydrating it. Dr. Reid recommends two drugstore options: AmLactin Daily Moisturizing Body Lotion or Eucerin Roughness Relief Cream. Just remember: All chemical exfoliants can make your skin extra sensitive to getting sunburned (yup, even after you’ve rinsed them off), so sunscreen is a must.
If the drugstore options aren’t giving you enough relief, your dermatologist can prescribe prescription-strength retinoids and cortisone creams to help. But if you’re dealing with KP, you’ll need to keep in mind that all these options are just for temporary improvement in appearance, says Dr. Reid.
Should you use a “strawberry legs” scrub?
When you have bumps, the natural tendency is to pick, scratch, rub, and scrub them off, but that’ll only hurt your current situation. Regardless of what you’re dealing with, Dr. Reid warns against over-exfoliating with harsh scrubs and drying treatments, which almost always make a skin condition way, way worse. It might also be a good idea to avoid dry brushing areas with thinner skin, like on your inner thighs, and avoid aggressive dry brushing, in general.
Are “strawberry legs” permanent?
I don’t mean to repeat myself, but it all depends on the cause of your “strawberry legs.” While folliculitis and keratosis pilaris can be treated, the latter tends to run in the family and be an inherited condition (yay! Thanks, mom and dad!), which means it can’t be prevented, just managed. And you have to be diligent, because if you ever stop the treatment, it’ll just come back again.
Google is not a doctor (I’m sorry! I know! I wish it were!). Which means the best idea is to make an appointment with someone who actually is. Once your dermatologist has had a chance to identify the underlying cause of your “strawberry legs,” they’ll be able to recommend the best treatment options for you. Cool? Cool.
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