#SkinSchool: Keratosis pilaris (KP) causes and treatments

Bridget March
Harper’s Bazaar
Photo credit: Getty Images
Photo credit: Getty Images

From Harper's BAZAAR

Keratosis pilaris, aka KP or ‘chicken skin’ as it’s nicknamed, can be seen as little raised red bumps on the backs of the arms and thighs. It can affect over 40 per cent of adults and 50 per cent of adolescents, according to the British Skin Foundation.

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While there’s no quick fix, the common dry skin condition can be treated with products and professional procedures, as dermatologist Dr Anjali Mahto explains in this video on KP above.

Causes of keratosis pilaris

“Keratosis pilaris tends to occur because skin cells aren't turning over properly, leading them to block hair follicles,” explains Dr Mahto. The result is bumpiness and scaling of the skin. “The main causes of KP are actually genetic – it's in your DNA – so you've probably inherited it.” It’s also very common in people with a background of eczema.

You could also be contributing to a KP flare-up yourself. “Often if you're using harsh soaps they can very much dry the skin out. So it's important that you use really gentle cleansers, ideally fragrance-free to stop this.” A harsh body scrub will also irritate the skin, Dr Mahto explains, causing the skin itself to become drier. CeraVe skincare expert Dr Christopher Hensby agrees: “Vigorous scrubbing may irritate the skin and aggravate the condition.”

It might also appear worse in winter, thanks to the environment inside-and-out. “When it's colder you put the central heating on, and start taking hot baths and hot showers – that's going to dry the skin out further,” Dr Mahto adds.

At-home treatments

To aid the turnover of dead skin cells, it's important to exfoliate the skin gently (this is also advisable should you have a history of eczema in association with KP).

This might mean you rethink the way you're exfoliating. Dr Hensby explains: “The keratotic plug associated with keratosis pilaris extends deep into the hair follicle, building up to the surface where bumps appear. Even if possible, scrubbing deeply enough to unclog this build up would be extremely damaging to the skin.”

The solution is to use a gentle body polish with a chemical exfoliant such as salicylic acid (a beta hydroxy acid) or lactic acid (an alpha hydroxy acid). Try the Ameliorate Smoothing Body Exfoliant, as recommended by Dr Mahto.

Next, moisturise with a product also containing these ingredients to help unclog the follicles, plus renewing and replenishing ingredients such as urea and ceramides. Try the CeraVe Smoothing Cream, which both dermatologists advise.

Professional treatments

Dr Henby says that the common mistreatment of KP by way of harsh scrubbing of the skin extends to professionally performed microdermabrasion. For this reason, when seeking in-clinic treatments Dr Mahto says it’s important to visit a dermatologist “to get the diagnosis right first” – and avoid worsening the condition.

She says if you're exfoliating and moisturising properly as above, the scaling should reduce, but you might be left with some redness. In which case, there are laser treatments available.

“Things like pulsed dye laser or light-based devices like intense pulsed light (IPL) can be quite good at shrinking down the blood vessels in the skin and reducing the redness that might be there.”

However, “make sure that your expectations are set correctly, because if the problem is the dryness and the scaling the laser and the light will not help that.”

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