Rough and bumpy skin is very common and the most common cause is a condition called keratosis pilaris. It usually presents as small, hard bumps on your arms, and legs but can also affect other parts of the body. In this article we’re going to explore what causes keratosis pilaris and the best way to treat keratosis pilaris and get rid of rough and bumpy skin.
What is Keratosis Pilaris?
Often termed ‘chicken skin’, keratosis pilaris is a harmless, non-contagious skin condition that causes tiny, rough bumps on the skin. These bumps are often light-coloured, sometimes red but they don’t itch or hurt. They usually appear on the upper arms and thighs. However, it can affect other parts of the body like the buttocks, chest, back, forearms, lower legs, groin, armpits and even the face. Technically, keratosis pilaris can appear anywhere on the body, except for the palms of the hands and the soles of the feet, since these areas don’t have hair follicles. It is typically hard to get rid of keratosis pilaris but there are many good options to improve its appearance.
What Causes Keratosis Pilaris?
Keratosis pilaris occurs as a result of the buildup of keratin. This is a hard protein that protects the skin from harmful substances and infections. This buildup forms a plug that blocks the opening of a hair follicle. The exact reason for this buildup remains unclear, but it’s believed to be related to genetic factors or other dry skin conditions like atopic dermatitis (eczema). For those with skin of colour, the plugged hair follicles might also make the skin look darker or discoloured.
Other Skin Conditions That Cause Rough and Bumpy Skin
Whilst keratosis pilaris has a distinctive appearance, there are several other skin conditions that might be mistaken for it. Here are some conditions that cause small bumps or similar texture to keratosis pilaris:
- Folliculitis: this is an inflammation of the hair follicles. It is often caused by bacterial or fungal infections. Unlike keratosis pilaris, folliculitis can be itchy or painful. It may also present with red, pustule-like bumps.
- Atopic Dermatitis: also known as eczema, this can cause itchy and inflamed skin. Affected areas can appear dry, scaly and occasionally have tiny bumps.
- Acne: this is a common skin condition that involves the oil glands. It can result in a variety of lesions including whiteheads, blackheads and inflamed bumps. Acne primarily affects the face, but can also be found on the neck, back, chest and shoulders.
- Molluscum Contagiosum: this viral skin infection results in round, firm and painless bumps. These may become itchy, red or inflamed.
- Heat Rash (Prickly Heat or Miliaria): this is caused by blocked sweat ducts. Heat rash leads to small, itchy and red bumps.
- Pityriasis Rubra Pilaris: this rare skin condition can cause red, scaly patches that contain small bumps. It can also cause thickened skin on the palms and soles.
- Ichthyosis Vulgaris: this is a genetic skin disorder that leads to dry, scaling skin and sometimes small bumps.
- Psoriasis: this is a chronic autoimmune condition that speeds up the lifecycle of skin cells. It forms scales and red patches that can be itchy and painful.
- Keratosis Follicularis (Darier’s Disease): another genetic disorder, this causes rough, hard bumps on the skin, especially the chest, back, ears and forehead. The bumps are warty and have a greasy appearance.
If you are experiencing symptoms that you believe might be keratosis pilaris, but you’re unsure, you should consult a dermatologist.
How to Treat Keratosis Pilaris
Whilst harmless, keratosis pilaris can be a cosmetic concern. Although there’s no quick way to get rid of rough and bumpy skin caused by keratosis pilaris. There are however, many good treatments that can significantly improve the skin’s appearance. Here’s how to treat keratosis pilaris properly.
Whilst keratosis pilaris is largely a hereditary condition, certain factors can worsen it’s severity. Start by minimising or eliminating potential triggers or aggravating factors. This will speed up or improve the results of your treatments.
- Dry Weather: the bumps are often more pronounced in dry and cold weather due to reduced humidity. This can lead to drier skin.
- Dry Skin: this can exacerbate the roughness and bumpiness of keratosis pilaris which often co-exists with dry skin conditions like eczema.
- Hormonal Changes: some women report that their keratosis pilaris becomes more noticeable during menopause, pregnancy or their menstrual cycle. This suggests there might be a possible hormonal link.
- Friction: continuous friction from tight clothing can irritate the skin which can exhacerbate keratosis pilaris.
- Harsh Soaps and Skincare: products that dry out the skin or disrupt its natural barrier can aggravate keratosis pilaris. Try to use gentle moisturising cleansers instead of harsh soaps.
- Excessive Scrubbing or Exfoliation: Whilst gentle exfoliation can help in managing rough and bumpy skin, aggressive scrubbing can inflame the skin and worsen the condition.
- Allergies: some people report flare-ups linked to certain allergens. However, this is a less common trigger and not well-established.
Beyond avoiding triggers or aggravating factors, skincare is the best way to treat keratosis pilaris. These are the most effective over-the-counter skincare and prescription treatments that can help get rid of rough and bumpy skin.
Using a gentle exfoliant can help remove the keratin buildup. Look for body scrubs or creams with alpha hydroxy acid (AHA), beta hydroxy acid (BHA) or urea. A soft, bristle brush or washcloth can also be used to exfoliate the skin during a shower or bath. However, avoid vigorous scrubbing, which can cause irritation and worsen the keratosis pilaris.
This is key to improving the appearance of keratosis pilaris. You need a hydrating, emolliating and occlusive moisturiser. Look for creams containing ingredients like urea, lactic acid, glycerin and ceramides. These will both moisturise and exfoliate the skin. Apply your moisturiser immediately after bathing, while the skin is still damp, to lock in moisture.
Try over the counter body retinol to further exfoliate the skin, unclog pores and smooth texture. Prescription retinoid creams like Tretinoin can be up to 20x stronger than over-the-counter retinoids. They promote cell turnover to clear up pores and can fade hyperpigmentation caused by keratosis pilaris. Other prescription retinoids include Adapalene and Tazarotene.
Topical steroids, or corticosteroids, are commonly used to treat a variety of skin conditions due to their anti-inflammatory properties. When it comes to keratosis pilaris topical steroids are not a first-line treatment and won’t help get rid of it. However your doctor might prescribe a steroid cream to treat very red and inflamed areas for a short period.
Professional Skin Treatments
Whilst over-the-counter and prescription skincare are the main treatments for keratosis pilaris, there are also professional treatments that can improve on your results. Below are the most common professional skin treatments that can help improve rough and bumpy skin.
This involves applying a chemical solution to exfoliate the skin. Chemical peels can help unclog pores and smooth the skin’s texture. Mild to medium peels normally containing glycolic or lactic acid are usually used for keratosis pilaris.
This is a minimally invasive procedure where the outermost layer of dead skin cells is mechanically exfoliated using a handheld device. By removing this layer, the skin can feel smoother.
Certain types of laser treatments can help improve redness and texture. Pulsed light and fractional lasers are two common types used to treat rough and bumpy skin.
This exfoliating treatment involves a trained professional using a surgical scalpel to gently scrape off the top layer of dead skin cells. Whilst it’s primarily used for facial treatments, it is sometimes used for smaller areas of keratosis pilaris.
Photodynamic Therapy (PDT)
This is a two-step treatment that involves applying a photosensitising agent to the skin and then exposing it to a specific wavelength of light. It’s more commonly used for conditions like acne, but some dermatologists might use it for severe cases of keratosis pilaris.
Can You Get Rid of Keratosis Pilaris?
It’s essential to understand that while treatments can improve the appearance of keratosis pilaris, they might not completely get rid of it. However, the good news is that this condition usually improves with age. You can still get great results with a consistent skincare routine and guidance from a skincare professional.
Keratosis pilaris is a very common and entirely harmless condition. However its rough and bumpy texture can be a major cosmetic concern and it can be hard to treat keratosis pilaris. By understanding its root causes, avoiding triggers and using a consistent skincare routine, you can achieve smoother and clearer skin. If you have severe keratosis pilaris, have it on delicate areas like your face or groin or aren’t sure what the cause of your rough and bumpy skin is then seek professional medical advice. If you are considering professional skin treatments then please ensure that you see a qualified and experienced practitioner. They will help you select the best treatment for you and reduce any risks or side effects that can occur.
We passionately believe that skincare is first and foremost personal. Our virtual clinic offers safe and effective prescription-strength treatments like Tretinoin for conditions like acne, hyperpigmentation, melasma and skin ageing. Book a virtual consultation with one of our doctors today and take your first step towards great skin.