Keratosis pilaris

Definition

Keratosis pilaris is a common skin condition in which a protein in the skin called keratin forms hard plugs within hair follicles.

Causes

Keratosis pilaris is harmless (benign). It seems to run in families.  It is more common in people who have very dry skin, or who have atopic dermatitis (eczema).

The condition is generally worse in winter and often clears in the summer.

Symptoms

Symptoms include:

  • Small bumps that look like "goose bumps" on the back of the upper arms and thighs
  • Bumps feel like very rough sandpaper
  • Skin-colored bumps are the size of a grain of sand
  • Slight pinkness may be seen around some bumps
  • Bumps may appear on the face and be mistaken for acne

Exams and Tests

Your doctor or nurse can usually diagnose this condition by looking at your skin. Tests are usually not needed.

Treatment

Treatment may include:

  • Moisturizing lotions to soothe the skin and help it look better
  • Skin creams that contain urea, lactic acid, glycolic acid, salicylic acid, tretinoin, or vitamin D
  • Steroid creams to reduce redness

Improvement often takes months and the bumps are likely to come back.

Outlook (Prognosis)

Keratosis pilaris may fade slowly with age.

When to Contact a Medical Professional

Call your doctor or nurse if the bumps are bothersome and do not get better with lotions you buy without a prescription.

Figures

Keratosis pilaris on the cheekKeratosis pilaris rubra faceiiKeratosis pilaris rubra faceii

Revision

Last reviewed 10/29/2013 by Richard J. Moskowitz, MD, Dermatologist in Private Practice, Mineola, NY. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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