Keratosis pilaris is a very common skin condition that affects about 40% of the population.  It tends to start in childhood and may persist in to adulthood. 

 What Does Keratosis Pilaris Look Like?

Keratosis pilaris causes rough bumps.  These are most common on the cheeks in childrenand the arms and thighs in adults.  The bumps are most commonly red, but they can be brown, especially in people with skin of colour.

What Causes Keratosis Pilaris?

The cause of keratosis pilaris is unknown. It is thought that in people with keratosis pilaris, the membrane or "envelope" around the skin cells becomes sticky.  This "stickiness" is probably genetically determined.  Sticky skin cells get caught around hair follicles, leading to the scaly rough reddish or brownish bumps one sees.  

Are There Other Conditions Associated with Keratosis pilaris?

Yes.  Keratosis pilaris is more common in people with atopic dermatitis.

How is Keratosis Pilaris Treated?

The following treatments may provide some benefit in the treatment of keratosis pilaris:

  • Topical lotions that contain salicylic acid, urea, glycolic acid or lactic acid  may help to smooth out the skin (examples include Lac Hydrin® Lotion, Uremol® Lotion, CeraVe® SA Renewal Lotion and Avene® Akerat cream)
  • Topical retinoids (prescription medications such as tretinoin or adapalene that are chemically related to vitamin A) may also help to lift dead skin and make the skin smoother
  • For areas of keratosis pilaris that are hyperpigmented (darker), dermatologists sometimes prescribe lightening creams
  • Mild topical cortisone creams such as hydrocortisone can be used intermittently (not on a continuous basis) for short periods to decrease redness
  • Regular, gentle, exfoliation can help to smooth out the skin.  
  • Treatments with lasers such as the pulsed dye laser or the Nd:YAG laser, or with intense pulsed light may be helpful if topical treatments have not worked

There is no cure for keratosis pilaris; treatments may remove the dead skin around the hair follicles or improve the redness, but these results are usually temporary. In some cases, keratosis pilaris goes improves or away on its own when someone is in their 30s or beyond.