Each spring, as the days warmed and trees blossomed, I would fear the inevitable days of shorts and tank tops. This exposed skin equated to an exposed adolescent ego, as my upper arms and lower calves would glare, red and angry into the eyes of any onlooker. “White-Girl Rash,” as my friend affectionately but ruefully dubbed it during high school, was the small red rash-like bumps on our arms and legs and for me, backside. It was her belief that in the way that dry skin produced a “chalky” effect on the skin of African-American men and women, the plight of the “white girl” was the red, bumpy rash. Flawed as that notion was (I now know that Keratosis Pilaris can afflict a person of any race), it allowed me to belong somewhere, if at least with my fellow sufferers.
This was years before I discovered that the condition, Keratosis Pilaris, had a name. That it, in fact, had a diagnosis. And was probably not curable, but at least treatable. For most of my life, I have felt distinctly uncomfortable when an intimate companion, or even my closest friend or family member, has rubbed my arm in an affectionate way. I have had people try to “pop” the minuscule pimple-like hard plugs formed through a process known as “hyperkeratinization,” or an over-formation of keratin, the hair producing protein around a hair follicle, trapping a small coil of hair under an unfortunate-looking little mound of flesh. I used to pull out these little “plugs” as a pre-teen girl with tweezers, till they bled and left small scars. For years, I avoided any exposure of my naked skin. Mostly, it was easy just to avoid intimacy. In my most vulnerable years, no doctor was ever able to tell me what the rash was.
I have tried loofahs, exfoliants, both of which only seemed to irritate and rub raw my sensitive skin, and moisturizers galore. A friend suggested something called “lactin,” and I went out and bought myself a bottle of milky prescription-grade “Amlactin.” I dutifully moisturized day and night, stayed away from anything abrasive, and yet it never had a lasting effect. When I finally gave up on the extra attention, and allowed my skin to be its normal, scaly self, I finally began to notice one thing that actually helped the condition, and to this day, is my tried and true treatment: the sun. Somewhere along the way, I happened to notice that by mid-summer, my rash had fairly diminished, and I may actually look like I was one of those smooth-skinned beach babes, a far cry from my self image of a scaly lake monster. Nowadays, I make sure to lather on some strong UV protection and allow my skin to soak up some rays, to help shrink those scales down.