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 arms.
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.