Skip to content
My WebMD Sign In, Sign Up

Skin Problems & Treatments Health Center

Font Size

Keratosis Pilaris

Keratosis pilaris is a common, harmless skin condition. It causes small, hard bumps that may make your skin feel like sandpaper.

The bumps are often light-colored. They usually appear on your upper arms, thighs, and buttocks, sometimes with redness or swelling. They can also show up on your face, but that's less common.

Recommended Related to Skin Problems & Treatments

Candidiasis

Important It is possible that the main title of the report Candidiasis is not the name you expected. Please check the synonyms listing to find the alternate name(s) and disorder subdivision(s) covered by this report.

Read the Candidiasis article > >

Except for some itching, keratosis pilaris doesn't hurt and doesn't get worse. Many children and teens get it, and it usually disappears as they get older.

Cause

Keratosis pilaris is caused by a buildup of keratin, the protein that protects skin from infections and other harmful things. The buildup forms a plug that blocks the opening of a hair follicle, but doctors don't know what triggers the buildup.

If you have dry skin, you're more likely to have keratosis pilaris. It's usually worse in the winter months, when there's less moisture in the air, and then may clear up in the summer.

It often affects people with certain skin conditions, including eczema (also called atopic dermatitis).

Your doctor can diagnose keratosis pilaris by looking at your skin. You don't need to be tested for it.

What You Can Do

You can't prevent keratosis pilaris, but you can keep your skin moist to lessen its effects.

Some simple things can help keep your skin comfortable.

  • Don't scratch at the bumps or rub your skin roughly.
  • Use warm water rather than hot for bathing and showering.
  • Limit your time in the water.
  • Try soap that has added oil or fat.
  • Use thick moisturizers generously on the skin.
  • Add moisture to the air in your home with a humidifier.

Treatment

There's no cure for keratosis pilaris. But moisturizing lotions or creams may help your skin look and feel better. A variety of these are available over the counter, but you'll need a prescription for stronger versions.

Two types of products that go directly on the affected skin can improve keratosis pilaris. You'll need to use them daily for several weeks before you'll see a change. You should follow the suggestions above, too, for long-lasting results.

Topical exfoliants remove dead skin cells from the surface of your skin. These include creams that contain alpha-hydroxy acid, lactic acid, salicyclic acid, or urea.

The acids may cause redness or a slight burning, so they aren't recommended for young children.

Topical retinoids, related to vitamin A, help prevent hair follicles from getting plugged. These include products with the ingredients tretinoin (Avita, Renova, and Retin-A) and tazarotene (Avage and Taxorac). But topical retinoids may irritate your skin or cause redness or peeling.

Pregnant or nursing women shouldn't use topical retinoids unless they've checked with their doctor.

Laser treatment -- aiming a laser onto the skin -- is sometimes used to treat severe redness and inflammation. It isn't a cure, but it can provide some relief when creams and lotions aren't enough. You might need several sessions for this treatment to work.

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Arefa Cassoobhoy, MD, MPH on March 21, 2014

Today on WebMD

chafing
Pictures and symptoms of the red, scaly rash.
woman with dyed dark hair
What it says about your health.
 
woman with cleaning products
Top causes of the itch that rashes.
atopic dermatitus
Identify and treat common skin problems.
 
itchy skin
Article
shingles rash on skin
Article
 
woman with skin tag
Quiz
Woman washing face
Video
 
woman washing her hair in sink
Video
close up of womans bare neck
Tools
 
Feet
Slideshow
woman with face cream
Quiz