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Tiny Bumps: Understanding Keratosis Pilaris

Keratosis Pilaris Pictures

Keratosis pilaris is a common skin condition that causes dry, rough patches with tiny bumps. They may look like goose bumps and feel a bit like sandpaper. They usually don’t hurt, but can be itchy. It is most often seen on the backs of the arms and front of the thighs, but can show up anywhere else on the body.

The Bumps

Keratosis pilaris (KP) is a common condition that causes small bumps to form on your skin. You may also notice redness and dry, scaly skin around the bumps. The bumps are made of a protein called keratin, which helps form your hair, nails, and skin’s outer layer (epidermis). They look the color of your skin — they can be white on light skin or red on dark skin, or they can be the same color. They’re not painful, but they can itch.

Bumps from keratosis pilaris can be found on your upper arms, thighs, buttocks, and cheeks. They aren’t usually a serious health problem, but they can be unsightly and embarrassing for some people, especially in colder weather when their skin is drier. They can also change in appearance during certain times of the year, especially when you go through hormonal changes like pregnancy. Keratosis pilaris can look similar to other conditions, so if your symptoms don’t go away after self-care, talk with your doctor or dermatologist.

The Skin

Keratosis pilaris often shows up as tiny bumps that look like sandpaper, chicken skin or goosebumps. The bumps can be red or tan and the skin surrounding them may look dry and flaky. KP is usually harmless, but it can be cosmetically disfiguring for some patients. It is often more noticeable in the summer and aggravated by cold weather.

The bumps are found on the backs of the arms, legs, buttocks (butt) and sometimes on the face (cheeks). They don’t hurt or itch and tend to disappear by age 30. If the symptoms persist, moisturizing or using prescription creams may help. If the condition is causing distress or making you feel self-conscious, talk to your healthcare provider, who may prescribe stronger treatments. In some cases, pus-filled bumps may occur, which is called frictional lichenoid dermatitis and is a medical emergency. It is more common in young children and teenagers, but can appear at any age.

The Inflammation

The bumps that form on the skin of people with keratosis pilaris often look like clusters of tiny pimples. They happen when keratin clogs pores instead of flaking off. The pores are the openings in the skin where hairs grow (hair follicles). The condition is common. It can affect any age or skin color, but it is most noticeable in children and teenagers. It tends to clear during adulthood, though it may flare up with hormonal changes or as a side effect of certain medications.

Most doctors can diagnose keratosis pilaris by looking at your skin. There is no need for other tests. KP is more likely to develop on dry skin, so moisturizing might help. Dermatologists recommend using thick moisturizers, especially ones containing lactic acid or urea. You can also try exfoliating by gently rubbing the area with a loofah or pumice stone. Treatments don’t clear keratosis pilaris completely, but they can improve your skin’s texture.

The Treatment

It’s often hard to get rid of keratosis pilaris completely. But a lot of things can help. The best approach is to moisturize and not irritate the skin. Don’t use scrubs or try to pick at the bumps, which can make them worse. If the condition doesn’t improve on its own, talk to your health care provider. They may recommend creams to help improve the appearance.

It isn’t known what causes the buildup of keratin, which clogs the pores and forms these small bumps. But it does tend to run in families and is more common in women and people under 30. Hormonal changes can also trigger it, such as those seen during pregnancy and puberty.

Treatments may include moisturizers, prescription-strength alpha or beta hydroxy acid (glycolic, lactic or salicylic), prescription-strength urea (KeratoPil, Aluvea), or a retinoid such as tretinoin or tazarotene. Some people need a few treatments before they see results. But remember that treatments won’t cure the condition, and it will return once treatment is stopped.

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