In every issue of WebMD the Magazine, we ask our experts to answer
readers' questions about a wide range of topics. In our May 2010 issue, we
turned to WebMD's Skin Care Expert, Karyn Grossman, MD, to get advice on
dealing with those pesky little bumps that so many of us have on our upper
Q. I have lots of little bumps on my upper arms -- I don't like going
sleeveless. What are they? Can I get rid of them?
A. Those little bumps are caused by keratosis pilaris, a common skin
condition that usually affects the arms and thighs (although it sometimes
appears on the buttocks and face, too). It's caused by a buildup of the protein
keratin, which can plug a hair follicle, resulting in a bump. It isn't serious,
but it feels rough, looks unsightly, and can be hard to get rid of.
For many people, keratosis pilaris begins in childhood and sometimes goes
away on its own. If yours hasn't, see a dermatologist who can prescribe an
ammonium lactate cream or lotion to soften the plugs, or lotions containing
urea, topical corticosteroids, or retinoids. Doctors can also use lasers to get
rid of the redness that sometimes comes with the bumps.
At home, avoid rubbing your skin too hard, which can aggravate the
condition. In the shower, use a battery-operated brush to gently exfoliate.
Apply a moisturizer with urea or propylene glycol (which softens dry skin), or
use an over-the-counter product with lactic acid (a kind of alpha hydroxy
acid), which helps remove extra keratin.