How to Treat Keratosis Pilaris (Those Scaly Red Bumps On Your Upper Arms!)

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Keratosis pilaris is a fancy name for a common benign skin problem: patches of scaly, slightly red bumps that can appear on the back of the arms, butt, or cheeks. The condition is extremely widespread, affecting about half of the world’s population, regardless of ethnicity. While it’s harmless, rough and bumpy skin can be cosmetically bothersome, to say the least. Dr. Jeannette Graf, assistant clinical professor of dermatology at Mount Sinai Medical Center and the author of Stop Aging, Start Living, to figure out what causes keratosis pilaris and how to treat it.

Why You Get It

Keratosis pilaris is a harmless genetic condition caused by the skin’s excess production of the protein keratin. Basically, the protein surrounds a hair follicle and plugs it, resulting in a scaly red bump. Most commonly, keratosis pilaris is found on the backs of the upper arms, buttocks, cheeks, and thighs. “A lot of people have it to some degree, but the severity varies,” says Graf.

Dry winter air often exacerbates the problem, as do really hot showers, which dry out the skin further. The good news: the condition tends to lessen in severity as you age, often disappearing entirely by age 30. Even more good news: with the right topical creams and good skin care practices, you can greatly reduce its appearance.

How To Treat It

Because it’s related to genetics, keratosis pilaris is not something you can cure. “But you can minimize its appearance,” says Graf. Most cases don’t require a visit to the doctor, but if your skin is bothering you or you find it unsightly, a dermatologist can help set you up with the right moisturizers to treat it.

There are also at-home remedies. Graf recommends taking quick, lukewarm showers instead of piping hot ones. And never vigorously scrub the affected areas while bathing—that can cause aggravation. Post-shower, gently pat skin dry with a towel and apply a lotion or cream that gently exfoliates with active ingredients (some to look for: salicylic acid, glycolic acid, lactic acid, or urea). Products formulated with these ingredients soften and loosen dead skin cells, and can even help break down the excess keratin.

Try: Embryolisse Lait-Crème Moussant Sans Savon, Nutraplus Therapeutic Cream, Korres Body Butter in Yoghurt, Eucerin Very Dry Skin Lotion, AmLactin Moisturizing Lotion, or Lac-hydrin Five Moisturizing Lotion