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13 Best Treatments for Keratosis Pilaris, According to Dermatologists
Manage bumpy and dry skin with these top creams, lotions and scrubs.
You know how your skin can get all goosebumpy when you watch a Jordan Peele movie, or you go out in the first chill of autumn wearing a short-sleeved tee? Well, for some people, those bumps are a constant presence, and they have nothing to do with being spooked or cold. Keratosis pilaris, or KP, is a harmless but annoying condition in which the skin on your arms, thighs, face or butt can feel scaly, dry and bumpy.
"Often referred to as chicken skin, KP does indeed have that pebbly, slightly gritty texture to touch,” explains Mona A. Gohara, MD, an associate clinical professor of dermatology at Yale School of Medicine. Dr. Gohara explains that KP is mostly due to genetics — thanks, Mom and Dad! But you're in good company: "KP affects 40 to 80% of the general population at some time in their life, and it affects all races and ages," says Stephen Matlock, MD, a dermatologist with U.S. Dermatology Partners in Joplin, MO.
The condition crops up often among adolescents, with up to 80% experiencing the skin bumps — many simply outgrow it by the time they become adults. While the bumps don’t hurt or itch, and they don't require any treatment, they can definitely be annoying when you want your skin to look its smoothest in shorts or a tank top. The best way to treat KP is with topical creams designed to break down the keratin spikes, says Dr. Gohara, who recommends products that include alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs) such as lactic acid, glycolic acid or urea. "Depending on your budget, there are dozens of over-the-counter creams and medicated creams that work well," says Dr. Matlock.
1Best Overall Body Lotion to Treat Keratosis PilarisDaily Moisturizing Body Lotion AmLactin Read More
2Best Value Body Lotion to Treat Keratosis PilarisAmmonium Lactate Lotion Perrigo Read More
3Best Body Cream for Keratosis Pilaris on AmazonMoisturizing Skin Cream with Pump Dispenser Vanicream Read More
4Best Keratosis Pilaris Treatment for FaceDown to Tone Read More
5Best Exfoliating Body Lotion to Treat Keratosis PilarisSA Lotion for Rough & Bumpy Skin CeraVe Read More
While it's always best to check with your dermatologist before treating any skin conditions, here are 12 products that the experts we spoke to — and online reviewers with KP — say really work.
We consulted a panel of dermatologists who gave specific recommendations based on their expertise. Treatments that weren't explicitly recommended had specific ingredients that those doctors suggested. Others had high online ratings from people with KP.
Those little bumps of yours are caused by the buildup of the protein keratin, which plugs up the hair follicles, creating the little spikes of skin — it tends to be worse in people with dry skin. “Keratosis pilaris is commonly seen in people who have eczema or other conditions that make their skin prone to dryness," says Dr. Yadav. "The skin can feel rough or scaly in the affected areas, and the bumps are usually skin-colored." She adds that the condition can get worse in the winter, since cold weather and low humidity dry out the skin. "Anything that can irritate or dry the skin has the potential to worsen KP," adds Dr. Matlock. "This includes things like harsh, drying soaps, fragrances, detergents, aggressive exfoliation, and hot water—including hot showers."
Salicylic acid, lactic acid and alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs) are all ingredients in keratolytics, also known as chemical exfoliators—these are used to remove the buildup of dead skin. All three can be effective in softening up the keratin plugs that cause the bumps on your skin. "Make sure you're not too harsh or forceful on your skin when you use these," says Dr. Yadav.
Keeping up a regular routine of cleansing, exfoliating and moisturizing with products specifically designed to tread KP is your best bet, but it won't happen overnight. "Remember this is a genetic condition! Although we can do things to make it look better, it is in your DNA, so don't get frustrated," says Dr. Gohara. "Generally, this naturally gets better and less noticeable with time." If you are really concerned with your KP, talk to your dermatologist, who may suggest retinoids, topical steroids or anti-inflammatories, or even laser treatments.
As senior editor in the Hearst Health Newsroom, Marisa Cohen spends her days doing deep dives into health and wellness topics, covering every topic from head to toe (literally). She has spent more than 20 years interviewing top experts in their fields, reading through medical journals, and navigating information from reliable online sources to bring trustworthy advice to readers. In addition to writing for Good Housekeeping and Prevention, she has previously contributed health features to Self, Real Simple, Fitness, Health, WebMD, and Fit Pregnancy, among other magazines and websites.