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Keratosis pilaris

Medically reviewed by Drugs.com. Last updated on Feb 17, 2024.

Overview

Keratosis pilaris (ker-uh-TOE-sis pih-LAIR-is) is a harmless skin condition that causes dry, rough patches and tiny bumps, often on the upper arms, thighs, cheeks or buttocks. The bumps usually don't hurt or itch.

Keratosis pilaris is often considered a common variant of skin. It can't be cured or prevented. But you can treat it with moisturizers and prescription creams to help improve how the skin looks. The condition usually disappears by age 30.

Keratosis pilaris

Keratosis pilaris causes small bumps to appear on the upper arms, legs or buttocks. They usually don't hurt or itch.

Symptoms

Keratosis pilaris can occur at any age, but it's more common in young children. Symptoms include:

When to see a doctor

Treatment for keratosis pilaris usually isn't needed. But if you're concerned about your or your child's skin, consult your health care provider or a specialist in skin conditions (dermatologist).

Causes

Keratosis pilaris is caused by the buildup of keratin — a hard protein that protects skin from harmful substances and infection. The keratin blocks the opening of hair follicles, causing patches of rough, bumpy skin.

It's not clear why keratin builds up in people with keratosis pilaris. It might happen along with a genetic disease or skin conditions such as atopic dermatitis. Dry skin tends to make keratosis pilaris worse.

Keratin plug

Keratosis pilaris develops when keratin forms a scaly plug that blocks the opening of the hair follicle. Usually plugs form in many hair follicles, causing patches of rough, bumpy skin.

Risk factors

Keratosis pilaris is very common. It tends to run in families.

Diagnosis

Your health care provider will likely be able to diagnose keratosis pilaris just by looking at the affected skin. No testing is needed.

Treatment

Keratosis pilaris usually clears up on its own with time. In the meantime, you might use one of the many products available to help improve how the skin looks. If moisturizing and other self-care measures don't help, your health care provider may prescribe medicated creams.

Using medicated cream regularly may improve how the skin looks. But if you stop, the condition returns. And even with treatment, keratosis pilaris might last for years.

Lifestyle and home remedies

Self-help measures won't prevent keratosis pilaris or make it go away. But they may improve how the affected skin looks. When using a product new to you, test it on one area of affected skin first, such as an arm. If it seems to work and doesn't cause a reaction, use it for your keratosis pilaris.

Preparing for an appointment

You're likely to start by seeing your health care provider. Or you may be referred to a specialist in skin diseases (dermatologist). You may want to prepare a list of questions to ask your health care provider.

For keratosis pilaris, some basic questions include:

What to expect from your doctor

Your health care provider is likely to ask you several questions. Being ready to answer them may reserve time to go over any points you want to discuss more. Your health care provider may ask:

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