Keratosis pilaris is often abbreviated as KP by those familiar with this skin condition. Some people even describe it as “chicken skin.” For those who have never heard of it, the strange name might have them asking what in the world is keratosis pilaris? Unfortunately, KP is something I have experienced first-hand but I am here to share my first person experience, explain what it is and what has worked for me.
The Mayo Clinic describes keratosis pilaris as a skin condition in which rough patches and small bumps appear on the skin. The skin can appear red and the bumps sometimes resemble mild acne (see what it looks like). Keratosis pilaris tends to appear most on the arms, thighs, cheeks and rear end.
KP occurs when there is a build-up of keratin that blocks hair follicles, resulting in the rough, bumpy feel and appearance of the skin. It is not known why keratin build-up occurs, nor is there a sure-fire magical cure. Fortunately, it is not a life-threatening disease, but it is frustrating. The primary challenges of dealing with keratosis pilaris are the inconvenience and unsightly appearance.
I first noticed a problem on the skin of my upper arms in my early thirties after having gone through five years of treatment for breast cancer. The skin was slightly red, as though irritated, and there were small white bumps scattered about. I had never before had that problem. I didn’t think much of it at first. But when the problem didn’t go away after several months I wanted to know what was going on and decided to ask the doctor about it.
Once I learned what the unsightly skin condition was called, I soon discovered that doctors do not necessarily know what to do about it. Several different causes have been mentioned as possibilities. These include genetics, hormones, and diet. However, medical professionals have yet to establish exactly what causes keratosis pilaris. The answer could be that it differs for each person.
There are all sorts of treatment options and recommendations floating around. Dermatologists can prescribe oral medications or topical ointments. For instance, some people have had success in clearing up KP with Accutane while also treating acne. Others have seen improvement in their skin using prescription strength lactic acid lotions. Other methods that do not require a visit to the dermatologist include exfoliation with a body scrub or loofa, using a moisturizing lotion or cream, applying coconut oil, and eliminating certain foods from the diet, such as gluten and dairy.
I have been fortunate that my keratosis pilaris is mild and restricted to my upper arms. My skin is fairly sensitive so harsher treatments, such as lactic acid lotions, have not worked well for me. I have noticed a connection between increased hormone levels and worsening KP. For instance, my breast cancer was hormone positive and part of my treatment included a medication that drastically lowered my hormone levels. I did not have KP during that time. Once I was off that medication and my hormone levels began rising to get back to “normal,” that’s when I noticed the appearance of the redness and bumps associated with keratosis pilaris. Additionally, I also observed the KP to worsen during pregnancy, when hormone levels are constantly increasing.
It’s not possible for me to control my hormone levels so I cannot really address that potential link to my keratosis pilaris condition. My approach to treating KP has been to do so as gently rather than aggressively. For me, that means choosing skincare products that are as natural as possible and free of harsh ingredients since my sensitive skin does not respond well to such things. I have experienced positive results using lotions high in vitamin A, such as Yes to Carrots daily moisture lotion. The KP is almost eliminated when I apply the lotion daily immediately after showering and again later before bed. When I first began using a vitamin A lotion the redness started disappearing within a few days so that my skin tone looked more even. Within a few weeks the little KP bumps were almost all gone as well. As long as I stick to my vitamin A routine the KP is kept at bay and I am no longer embarrassed to show my arms.
Mayo Clinic Staff (2013, January 8). Diseases and conditions: Keratosis pilaris. Mayo Clinic. Retrieved online http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/keratosis-pilaris/basics/definition/con-20025750