What are the Causes of Keratosis Pilaris, and Its Treatment

Keratosis pilaris
Medically reviewed by Dr. Ola Tarabzuni

Key Takeaways

  1. Keratosis pilaris is a harmless skin condition characterized by small, rough patches commonly affecting children and adolescents. The patches typically disappear after the age of 30.
  2. The leading cause of keratosis pilaris is the build-up of keratin protein, which can block hair follicles or pores and result in small, hard bumps. Factors such as lack of hygiene, improper exfoliation, dry skin, and certain skin conditions like eczema can contribute to its development.
  3. Treatment options for keratosis pilaris include gentle skincare practices, such as avoiding tight clothing, using hydrating lotions, and taking warm baths. Some dermatologists recommend medicated options like dead skin cell removal creams and topical retinoids.

Overview

Keratosis Pilaris occurs as a result of excessive protein buildup on the skin and can seem like chicken pox or rash. While nobody wants to have skin that looks like a rash but it is harmless and can be treated. Let’s explore the underlying causes of Keratosis Pilaris and possible treatment options.

What is Keratosis Pilaris?

Keratosis pilaris causes small, red, or white rough patches, mainly affecting 50-80% of children and adolescents and 40% of adults. The location of these bumps on the legs, arms, cheeks, butt, or other dry areas of the body is most common. Although the condition is harmless and doesn’t cause serious complications, the patches disappear once you cross 30. Gentle skin care can help improve the appearance of the patches. It can’t be cured or prevented; some consider it a skin variant, i.e., chicken skin. Many causes can trigger its appearance, like plugging hair follicles with dead skin cells causing tiny bumps on the skin. Dry skin also causes these bumps and worsens winter and pregnancy conditions. Let’s discover more about the condition in this blog. 

What Causes Keratosis Pilaris?

As the name indicates, the leading cause is keratin protein buildup, which can block the hair follicles or pores, forming small bumps on the hands or face. Lack of hygiene, proper exfoliation, or using comedogenic products can clog the pores and cause dermatitis and Keratosis pilaris. It can also be the interplay of genetics in some cases. Dry skin is another trigger that can cause the buildup of keratin and dead skin cells, clogging the pores. Some skin conditions also trigger keratosis conditions like eczema, in which itchy patches form, which increases flakiness. 

KP is a skin condition that falls under a group of disorders called papulosquamous diseases. These disorders are characterized by scaly bumps and patches on the skin, but the exact cause of KP is still unknown. However, here are some of the theories researchers concluded:

Autosomal Dominant Disorder

It is believed that KP can be inherited in a pattern known as autosomal dominant with variable penetrance. This means that if someone in your family has KP, there is a chance you may develop it as well, but the severity can vary.

Abnormal Keratinization

One widely accepted theory suggests that the small bumps and plugs seen in KP result from abnormal keratinization of the cells lining the hair follicles. The keratin, a protein that forms the outer layer of the skin, builds up and plugs the opening of the follicles, leading to characteristic bumps.

Twisted Hair Shaft

Some studies propose that KP is not primarily a disorder of the skin cells (keratinocytes) but rather a problem with the hair shafts. It is suggested that the hair shafts of individuals with KP are coiled or twisted, and when they rupture the follicular lining, it triggers faulty keratinization and inflammation. However, this idea is based on a small study and needs further research to confirm.

Absence of Sebaceous Glands

Another hypothesis suggests that the absence of sebaceous glands, which produce oils that moisturize the skin, may play a role in developing abnormal keratinization and hair shaft abnormalities in KP. According to this theory, the early stages of KP involve the absence of sebaceous glands, leading to subsequent skin and hair abnormalities.

These are some of the possible causes and explanations for keratosis pilaris. While researchers have progressed in understanding the condition, further studies are needed to understand the underlying mechanisms and confirm these theories.

Consult a Doctor to Know the Cause of Keratosis Pilaris

What are Keratosis Pilaris Symptoms?

The symptoms range from small and hard bumps on the skin with a rough appearance, either white, skin, or red. They usually appear on the dry areas of the body like thighs, upper arms, chest, butt, and sometimes on the face. These bumps can sometimes contain ingrown hair, which can itch and inflame. Some other skin conditions like eczema, dermatitis, psoriasis, and allergies also cause similar symptoms. Therefore, it is better to consult your doctor before jumping to conclusions. 

How is Keratosis Pilaris Diagnosed?

In the case of Keratosis pilaris, your doctor can typically tell by seeing it, and medical testing is not required. Keratosis pilaris causes bumps that appear different and are easy to recognize. Also, the location of the spots and dryness can attest to the rest. In some cases, the provider may run an allergy test to be sure of the condition. Other factors that the doctor may look for include age, the appearance of bumps, and the body parts it affects. If you need clarification about whether it is Keratosis pilaris or an allergic reaction, consult a doctor for the correct diagnosis and treatment.

Risk Factors and Associated Conditions for Keratosis Pilaris

The risk of developing Keratosis pilaris is higher if you are a woman, teenager, or child. Other people who are at risk include people with the following:  

  • Eczema
  • Dry Skin
  • Hay Fever
  • Obesity
  • Ichthyosis
  • Fair Skin
  • Keratosis Pilaris in the Family
  • Asthma

Home Remedies and Self-care Tips

Although harmless, keratosis bumps can be a nuisance to look and feel. Specific home remedies can help you treat the symptoms at home instead of waiting to turn 30 for them to be gone. Follow these home remedies to root out these keratosis bumps altogether:

  • Avoid Tight Clothing as it increases the chances of itching, inflammation, and redness due to trapped moisture. 
  • Hydrating Lotions can enhance the cell turnover rate and reduce the rate of dead cell buildup on the skin. Some examples include alpha hydroxy or lactic acid-containing lotions, salicylic acid-containing lotions, eucerin advanced repair, and amlactin.
  • Warm baths are one such technique to open pores. It’s best to use steam or a warm bath to open the pores first and then exfoliate to remove any dirt inside the pores.
  • Use humidifiers to balance air moisture and reduce itchy flare-ups. 

How to Get Rid of Keratosis Pilaris?

Keratosis pilaris treatment is usually not specific. However, there are some medicated options that dermatologists recommend including: 

Dead Skin Cells Removal Creams

Your doctor may recommend over-the-counter creams that remove dead skin cells buildup, like creams with active ingredients like salicylic acid, alpha hydroxy acid, urea, or lactic acid. This help breaks down the keratin protein from dead cells that clog pores in the form of white or blackheads. They also soften the bumps via moisture and chemical exfoliation to easily remove them by reducing friction. 

Creams to Prevent Plugged Follicles

Vitamins are sure very crucial for our body’s health. But they are also essential for our faces. Vitamin A is an excellent product for preventing plugged hair follicles and also promote cell turnover. It s commonly called a topical retinoid. You must have heard of it in antiaging creams. It is crucial to use retinoids once you are 25. It is because, after 25, your body’s natural turnover rate starts slowing down, so you don’t need it before that. There are many examples of topical retinoids; consult your doctor for a good option for your skin type. 

Laser Treatment 

If it bothers you, you can consult about laser treatment with your doctor, as it can help improve the discoloration associated with keratosis pilaris and enhance overall appearance. 

Consult a Doctor for Keratosis Pilaris Treatment

How Long Does it Take to Get Rid of Keratosis Pilaris?

Although there is no best treatment for keratosis pilaris, it can go away once you are 30 or in your mid-20s. However, specific home remedies and treatments can speed up the process and improve the skin in 1 to 2 months. 

How to Prevent Keratosis Pilaris?

There are different causes upon which prevention depends. For example, if it is genetic, prevention chances are meager. However, if not genetic, taking care of your hygiene, following a hydrating skincare routine in case you have dry skin, and weekly or monthly exfoliation can turn the tables in your favor. Other options are using non-comedogenic products not to get clogged pores and prevent keratosis pilaris. 

When to Consult a Doctor

If you are experiencing other symptoms like rash, itching, inflammation, and bumps getting bigger, consult your doctor, as they might be the sign of an associated skin condition, allergic reaction, or something that triggered the inflammation of the bumps. 

FAQs about Keratosis Pilaris Answered by Your Doctors Online Team.

Can gluten intolerance cause keratosis pilaris?

Although no evidence indicates the link between gluten intolerance and keratosis trigger, there is a chance that vitamin A deficiency or other essential fatty acids deficiency is the cause of those tiny white dots on the skin. People with gluten allergies face trouble absorbing many essential nutrients associated with the absorption of gluten.

How does Keratosis pilaris affect my body?

Keratosis can affect different body parts varying from person to person. Primarily, it attacks the dry body parts like thighs, legs, upper arms, or buttocks. These bumps, however, don’t hurt or itch but cause a rough patchy appearance.

Do keratosis pilaris bumps go away?

Keratosis pilaris can go away independently with time, but it can take years. To speed up the process, follow some over-the-counter non-comedogenic lotions, increase hydration, exfoliate occasionally, or consult a doctor for more options.

What does keratosis pilaris look like?

It can look like the goosebumps look, but the difference is it doesn’t go away. It is also called chicken skin condition. These bumps that look like pimples can sometimes stay for years and may appear red or white. They may give a sandpaper-like appearance but are usually harmless.

Does keratosis pilaris spread?

No, keratosis pilaris is not contagious and doesn’t spread to others who come in contact with you. It is just the excess keratin from dead cells that build up to give a bumpy look.

Is keratosis pilaris inflammatory?

Usually, they don’t inflame or itch. But in some cases, if irritated due to tight clothing or ingrown hair can cause inflammation and itching.

Your Doctors Online uses high-quality and trustworthy sources to ensure content accuracy and reliability. We rely on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions and medical associations to provide up-to-date and evidence-based information to the users.

  • Wang, Madeline Anne, Anna Wilson, and Dedee Frances Murrell. “A Review of the Scoring and Assessment of Keratosis Pilaris.” Skin Appendage Disorders (2023): 1-11.
  • Poskitt, L., and J. D. Wilkinson. “Natural history of keratosis pilaris.” British Journal of Dermatology 130.6 (1994): 711-713.
  • Thomas, Mary, and Uday Sharadchandra Khopkar. “Keratosis pilaris revisited: is it more than just a follicular keratosis?.” International Journal of Trichology 4.4 (2012): 255.
  • Gerbig, Andreas W. “Treating keratosis pilaris.” Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology 47.3 (2002): 457.

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