Hi, and welcome to your safe space for all things keratosis pilaris (aka “chicken skin,” aka a phrase I hate, because I am a human). Keratosis pilaris is the clinical name for the rough red bumps (or brown bumps, in darker skin tones) commonly found on the backs of your arms, thighs, legs, butt, or face—or all five, if you’re me (yay!). Even though 40 percent of adults have keratosis pilaris to some degree—meaning we are very much not alone—I would wager only 1 percent of adults have it has severely as I’ve had it since birth, because I am a special bumpy ~*queen*~.
And unlike what the internet tells you, my keratosis pilaris has only gotten worse as I’ve gotten older, which means if a “chicken skin” treatment exists, I can assure you I’ve tried it by now. I’ve tested every DIY recipe, every wacko internet “cure,” and every prescription and over-the-counter product to help my keratosis pilaris. I’ve read every Reddit thread, decoded every medical study, and pestered every dermatologist I’ve ever met for answers.
So if you’re currently losing your freakin’ mind trying to get rid of your bumpy arms and skin, allow me to give you a big hug, sit you down, and tell you that I get it. I’ve been there. I live there. And even though I know you’re just here for the best keratosis pilaris treatments and products (and don’t worry—I listed my routine below), you really need to first understand what’s causing the bumps, or you’ll never be able to correctly treat them without making them even worse. So with that, let’s learn about WTF’s happening to your skin, okay?
What causes “chicken skin” or keratosis pilaris?
“Keratosis pilaris is caused by excess keratin building up in your hair follicles, leading to little, hard, red bumps on your skin,” says dermatologist Mona Gohara, MD, associate clinical professor at Yale School of Medicine. Annoyingly, no one knows exactly why KP happens in the first place, though.
“There are theories about keratosis pilaris being a disorder of the hair follicle, or related to the sebaceous glands, or hormonally driven,” says dermatologist Mary Thomas, MD, who has authored multiple studies on keratosis pilaris, making her a bumpy-arm expert. “But we still don’t know enough, so research now needs to be at the cellular level to figure out the exact gene that causes KP,” she says.
How do you get rid of “chicken skin” permanently?
I know this isn’t what you want to hear (and neither do I), but because keratosis pilaris is part of your DNA, you can’t cure it or permanently get rid of it. I know. That’s not to say you can’t manage it, though—the most effective at-home KP treatments are a combo of chemical exfoliants to dissolve the bumps and rich moisturizers to soften skin—but these treatments are only effective as long as you use them. “As soon as you stop, your bumps will come right back,” says Dr. Thomas.
Hey, that’s not to say that by the time you’re older, there won’t be a brilliant, breakthrough solution. But for now? Sadly, research costs money, and money isn’t exactly being funneled into harmless (yet annoying) skin conditions like keratosis pilaris. So, our hopes of a permanent KP cure being discovered any time soon are…slim.
Can laser treatments get rid of keratosis pilaris?
Again, nothing can truly get rid of your KP, but in-office laser treatments can significantly reduce the redness and/or the bumpy texture on your body or face. “I haven’t found any topical treatment to be all that effective for the redness, so if that’s the main concern for a patient, I’ll recommend IPL—Intense Pulsed Light—laser treatments, which target and constrict red vessels in the skin,” says Dr. Thomas. Patients usually need 3-6 treatments spaced a month apart, and treatments can cost $400+ per session.
“If a patient’s main concern is the roughness, then I usually try laser hair removal,” says Dr. Thomas. It’s theorized that trapped hair coiled in the follicle can contribute to KP bumps on the body (not so much on the face, womp), so “if you destroy the hair completely, that can’t happen anymore,” she says. The pricing and number of sessions you need varies depending on where you’re getting it (both location-wise and body-wise), but you can expect at least $300+ per session and 4-6 treatments spaced six weeks apart.
Can “chicken skin” go away?
Yes, keratosis pilaris often goes away on its own when teens go through puberty or as adults age into their 20s and 30s. Of course, you’re looking at someone who failed both of those metrics, so it’s not a guarantee. Luckily, with the right products, you can likely reduce the appearance/feel of your keratosis pilaris within a month, as long as you’re hella consistent with a daily regimen (really).
Also, remember that your “chicken skin” will ebb and flow: It can get rougher in the winter, smoother in the summer, and inflamed with stress and hormones, which is why you need to be consistent with a routine. Which brings us to…
My keratosis pilaris treatment routine
BUT FIRST, LISTEN: Although I’ve listed nine of my favorite keratosis pilaris products later in this story, I don’t actually use all nine of these products at once—and neither should you. Irritation will only make your KP worse (seriously, that’s not just something doctors say). For me, I’ve found that my KP is happiest when my routine is 90 percent moisture, 10 percent exfoliation. Here’s how I tackle mine as of late (keep scrolling for exact products):
For the keratosis pilaris on my face:
For the keratosis pilaris on my body:
The best products for keratosis pilaris
Before you load up on all of the treatments above, please heed my irritation warning: Dousing your keratosis pilaris/”chicken skin” in acid and trying to scrub it off will only make your KP come back harder and angrier in the end, 100 percent guaranteed. Instead, stick with a simplified routine and do it every single day (!) for six weeks.
Seeing no changes after six weeks? Try switching just one of your products (i.e., swap your scrub for a sulfur soap, or your lactic-acid body lotion for a body retinol) and keep at it. Your brain will tell you to go harder, stronger, faster, and to ignore all of this advice—but don’t. Patience is your BFF when it comes to KP.
Got all that? Good. Now, please keep reading for what you really want: my favorite products to help get rid of keratosis pilaris, all in once place.
Glycolic Body Lotion for Keratosis Pilaris
Paula’s Choice Skin Revealing Body Lotion 10% AHA
Glycolic and lactic acids are both commonly recommended to treat KP, and for good reason: Both AHAs (alpha hydroxy acids) break down your keratosis pilaris bumps and smooth skin. The only diff? Glycolic—like this 10 percent-filled body lotion—is stronger than lactic acid, so it’s a bit more potent (but also potentially more irritation). I usually rub this one over my arms and thighs in the morning, wait five minutes, then top with sunscreen (note: acid-filled products make your skin extra sensitive to sunburns, so you need to wear sunscreen every single day if you have KP).
Face Cream for Facial Keratosis Pilaris
Avene Tolérance Extrême Cream
If you know me, you know this is the only face cream I’ve allowed to touch my sensitive skin for years. It’s incredibly moisturizing without feeling greasy or heavy, it’s free of fragrance and harsh ingredients, and it’s exactly what my face needs to be able to handle acid-based formulas without causing my facial KP to flare.
Gentle Body Scrub for Keratosis Pilaris
First Aid Beauty KP Bump Eraser Body Scrub
Please, please don’t try scrubbing the hell out of your KP—it won’t work. “Exfoliating with harsh scrubs or loofahs can actually create more inflammation and dryness, making your keratosis pilaris way worse,” says Dr. Gohara. Instead, once a week, gently massage an AHA-based (alpha hydroxy acid) body scrub over your wet skin (body only) in the shower, letting it sit for 60 seconds before rinsing off. I swear by this glycolic- and lactic acid-spiked formula for my bumpy arms and thighs—so much so that we gave it a Cosmo beauty award this year.
Sulfur Soap for Keratosis Pilaris
DermaHarmony 10% Sulfur 3% Salicylic Acid Bar Soap
So you know how your keratosis pilaris is made of built-up keratin (i.e., the same stuff in your fingernails)? Welp, sulfur is a “keratolytic” agent, meaning it works to dissolve the bonds in your keratin plugs, helping them to shed faster. We <3 keratolytics, which is why I love this soap: It’s filled with 10 percent sulfur and 3 percent salicylic acid (another keratolytic agent with redness-reducing properties), making it a KP-kicking powerhouse.
Just note that this stuff is strong and can be pretty drying. Gently rub it over your wet skin (body KP only!), wait five seconds, then rinse off.
Lactic Acid for Keratosis Pilaris on the Face
The Ordinary Lactic Acid 5% + HA 2%
The only thing more annoying than KP on your body? KP on your face. It’s rare, especially for adults, and yet here I am, living my best red, bumpy-cheeked life. I’ve spent a lifetime (literally) trying to destroy my facial KP, and here’s what I’ve learned: Use only the gentlest of acids, never scrub, and keep your skin as moisturized as possible. This 5 percent lactic-acid-based serum is the gentlest AHA I’ve found, and its hyaluronic-acid base keeps skin hydrated. I dab it on clean, dry skin every other night, wait 60 seconds, then layer on a rich, gentle moisturizer (Avène Tolerance Extreme Cream FTW).
Retinol Cream for Keratosis Pilaris
Advanced Clinicals Retinol Cream
Not gonna lie, my arms are currently itching from this retinol cream, so make sure to use it just once a week, not two nights in a row like I did. Still, although it’s strong, it’s worth it: Retinoids speed up your cell turnover and help your skin shed faster, making it harder for keratin plugs to form in the first place, says Dr. Gohara. Retinol isn’t as effective for keratosis pilaris as AHAs are, but this retinol cream definitely helped neutralize my redness when I used it in place of my acid-based lotion.
Best Body Scrub for Keratosis Pilaris
DermaDoctor KP Duty Body Scrub
DermaDoctor’s body scrub walked so every other KP product could run. Before First Aid Beauty developed their Bump Eraser formula (aka the product before this one), I religiously used DermaDoctor’s KP Duty all over my arms, thighs, and butt, since its mix of glycolic, lactic, and azelaic acids help buff away dry patches while chemically exfoliating my bumps. It’s not quite as gentle, though, so if you have ultra-sensitive skin, try Bump Eraser instead.
Moisturizer for Keratosis Pilaris on the Face
The other huge game changer for the keratosis pilaris on my face? This Elta MD moisturizer. It’s not really a moisturizer—it’s an occlusive, aka something that traps hydration into your skin like a seal, making your regular moisturizer more effective. After slathering on a thick layer of my normal face cream, I smooth this over my KP while my skin is still “damp.” It’s incredibly shiny and almost greasy-looking, so I only use it at night, but trust me—this stuff works.
AmLactin Lotion for Keratosis Pilaris
AmLactin Daily Lotion
You can’t talk about keratosis pilaris without mentioning this OG staple—it’s pretty much the only answer I’ve ever gotten to “how to get rid of keratosis pilaris.” The formula is filled with 12 percent lactic acid that helps dissolve your keratin plugs while also moisturizing your skin. It really, truly works, but only if you use it every day on your body until the world ends. It’s kinda sticky, though, so during humid months, I usually slather this on at night, or just switch to the lightweight Paula’s Choice 10% AHA lotion in the summer.
CBD Serum for Keratosis Pilaris Redness
Flora + Bast Age Adapting CBD Serum
Hokay, I am truly the biggest skeptic of topical CBD, because (1) most CBD skincare is poorly regulated, and (2) studies are still limited on how effective it is (though there’s tons of evidence that it’s magical for inflammation). But this serum-oil formula is basically the purest, simplest, least-risky form of CBD skincare, and it’s also the only topical product that has ever helped with the redness on my cheeks from my KP. I use it nightly on clean, dry skin (after my lactic acid, but before my moisturizer), and, if I use it consistently, it tones down my redness by about 30 percent. Which, when you’re hopeless like I am, is huge.
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