How to Treat Keratosis Pilaris or “Chicken Skin”

Homemade OvenFried Chicken Raw

If you’ve got tiny, dry bumps on your thighs, then you likely have keratosis pilaris (KP). KP is a common, harmless, genetic skin condition caused by a buildup of the protein keratin that plugs up the hair follicle, resulting in an acne-like bump that can be either white or red in color. Since it resembles goosebumps, KP is often referred to, albeit ungraciously, as “chicken skin.”

Keratosis pilaris most commonly occurs on the backs of the upper arms and on the thighs, and less commonly on the face, neck, and buttocks. Although adults can develop KP, it’s most common in children and adolescents who as they age, typically outgrow it.

Although it’s benign, KP can be unsightly and embarrassing, leading many sufferers to hide their skin and avoid wearing sleeveless shirts and shorts.

How do you treat keratosis pilaris? Although you can’t be cured of KP, there are several things you can do to reduce the bumps and improve your skin’s overall appearance:

1. Moisturize daily. Moisturizing daily, particularly after showering or bathing when the skin is still damp, is one of the most effective and inexpensive ways to treat KP. Moisturizing is especially important during cold weather months when KP often worsens.

2. Look for products containing lactic acid, glycolic acid, or urea. Many over-the-counter lotions and creams contain these ingredients that help exfoliate dead skin, making skin feel smoother and softer. With prolonged use, they can help remove bumps and improve the appearance of your skin. Always use gentle moisturizing body washes that both cleanse and moisturize the skin.

4. Consult your dermatologist. If you haven’t had any improvement with OTC products, then talk with your dermatologist about other options. Prescription retinoids can help KP, and in some severe cases, laser treatments can be used.

Photo credit: FCC, snowpea&bokchoy

9 thoughts on “How to Treat Keratosis Pilaris or “Chicken Skin”

  1. Thanks for the info, I have a number of clients with Keratosis Pilaris and I usually recommend exfoliating mechanically with a gentle scrub. Am I wrong? Also, in addition to lactic and glycolic acids, would salicylic acid work too?

  2. Hi Dr. Benabio,

    I have heared Urea is one of those special little known ingredients used by dermatologists to dramatically soften the crustiest of skin concerns. It is an awesome additive in improving the appearance of KP.

    But, what i know is urea is not that good for skin because of its harsh chemical components…Than, why some dermatologist use this treatment.

    • Urea is used in many skin care products, particularly lotions and creams that soften the skin. There are no safety concerns associated with it.

  3. We have had great success with treating Keratosis Pilaris with AHAs and BHAs when used regularly. Some of our favorites are Alyria Body resurfacing care, cerave salicylic acid lotion and also chemical peels for the body when severe.

    Often we will see patients who have inflamed their KP by scrubbing overly aggressively or by picking. This can lead to scarring and we recommend avoiding scrubs for this reason.

    Thanks for a great article Dr B!

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