Keratosis pilaris: all you need to know about your 'chicken skin'
Do you suffer from rough, bumpy skin on your upper arms, thighs, buttocks or all three? You may have a skin condition called keratosis pilaris (commonly known as ‘chicken skin’).
The reason I ask is because I myself have (and hate!) it too. In fact, research has shown that up to 50 per cent of the population suffer from ‘KP’, so I thought it was well worth investigating it a bit further.
I spoke to Dr Li-Chuen Wong, a consultant dermatologist at Sydney Skin, about what causes the unsightly condition, as well the best treatment. Here’s what you need to know:
According to Dr Wong, keratosis pilaris is very common and has a 50 per cent chance of being passed on to a patient’s children. If you have dry skin, you're even more likely to have keratosis pilaris. The condition is usually worse in the winter months, when there's less moisture in the air, and then may clear up in the summer. But although it can be butt-ugly looking (and on a bad day, seriously restrict your wardrobe choices), keratosis pilaris is a benign condition and won’t affect your overall health.
It doesn’t just affect your arms
In my case, keratosis pilaris affects just my upper arms, however, it can also be present on the cheeks, anterior thighs, buttocks and the back of the thighs. But what exactly causes the bumps? According to Dr Wong, a buildup of keratin, or dead skin cells, which form a "plug that blocks the opening of the hair follicles". Unfortunately, doctors don't know what triggers the buildup – but we do know that it differs to acne, which is caused by bacteria. Although keratoris pilaris can form whiteheads that look similar to acne, the bumps are usually harder and tougher (unless they become infected).
It varies in appearance
While the condition is characterised by rough, bumpy skin, it can vary quite a bit in appearance. “An underlying redness may be seen, worsened after exercise or overheating,” reveals Dr Wong. Keratosis pilaris usually doesn’t cause any other symptoms, though occasionally it may be itchy – particularly if your skin is very dry.
It’s difficult to treat
Unfortunately for sufferers of keratosis pilaris, it’s a notoriously difficult condition to treat. Dr Wong recommends a twice-daily application of exfoliating creams containing salicylic acid or lactic acid to help slough away excess dead skin cells and break down the dead and dry surface layer of the skin. Try Paula's Choice Resist Weightless Body Treatment or LANATE Body Topical Cream ($25.39, chemistwarehouse.com.au).
Loofahs and hand mitts such as Bump eRaiser Exfoliating Mitt may also be useful in decreasing the roughness. Frustratingly though, if these treatments are stopped, the keratotic papules will often soon reappear. If mere exfoliation doesn’t seem to be working, Dr Wong says vascular laser sessions “may also help with the underlying redness, though complete response to treatment is rare.”
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You should still moisturise
While at times I’ve been tempted to skip the moisturiser for fear of exacerbating the condition, Dr Wong stresses that moisturising with a nourishing lotion such as Aveeno Active Naturals Daily Moisturising Lotion or DermaVeen Everyday Moisturising Lotion will help with reducing the rough sensation. In my personal experience, rubbing the affected area with cold-pressed coconut oil in the shower has also helped to reduce the bumpiness.
Do you suffer from keratosis pilaris? How has it affected you and what treatments have you tried?
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