Are You Experiencing Persistent Red Bumps on the Back of Your Arms and Legs? Here's How to Smooth Them
If you've had red bumps on the backs of your arms, thighs, hips, cheeks, and even glutes for as long as you can remember, you likely have a skin condition called keratosis pilaris. And while it sounds serious, it's completely harmless and painless—albeit stubborn and annoying. It's also fairly common and, luckily, easy to treat when you use the right products and develop a consistent routine. To learn more about keratosis pilaris, which has colloquially been dubbed "chicken skin," read on for some expert insight and treatment advice.
What is keratosis pilaris?
According to Dr. Jeanette Graf, a board-certified dermatologist and assistant clinical professor of dermatology at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine, keratosis pilaris results in dry skin patches and small raised red or white bumps where you have hairs; the bumps form when keratin, a protein present in your hair follicles, blocks the pore, trapping a hair below the surface and causing inflammation at the site.
Annie Kreighbaum and Rebecca Zhou, the founders of the new-to-market body beauty brand Soft Services, add that since the condition isn't painful, itchy, or dangerous, the medical community considers it a cosmetic issue and hasn't spent much time developing a treatment. "It just hasn't been the subject of many medical studies," Kreighbaum and Zhou say. What doctors do know is that it is genetic, which makes it different from other skin ailments, like eczema and contact dermatitis. And, unfortunately, complete resolution isn't (yet) possible: "Keratosis pilaris can get better or worse, but never goes away," notes Dr. Graf. You'll often find that the condition flares when the skin becomes extremely dry—and if it is not properly managed, it can become an ongoing issue.
What are its key symptoms?
Keratosis pilaris has a few key symptoms, which The Mayo Clinic identifies as the following: painless tiny bumps on your upper arms, thighs, cheeks, or glutes; dry, rough skin surrounding bumps; bumps and dry patches that become worse during seasonal changes; and flesh with a sandpaper texture and goosebump appearance. Dr. Graf adds that children and teens going through puberty are more prone to developing keratosis pilaris and that it tends to get milder as you get older—but not always.
How can you treat this condition?
The good news: Treatment is relatively straightforward, and involves everything from "chemical and manual exfoliation to medical creams," notes Dr. Graf, who recommends products containing salicylic acid, lactic acid, and vitamin A. She recommends starting with a pore-clearing option, like her eponymous brand's Glycolic Retexturing Pads ($36.50, lovelyskin.com). Follow that step up with a moisturizer that contains other resurfacing ingredients: She likes moisturizing iterations like CeraVe SA Lotion for Rough & Bumpy Skin ($15.69, target.com), which was specifically formulated to treat these tricky bumps.
Kreighbaum and Zhou, on the other hand launched Soft Services to address a number of body skin concerns, including keratosis pilaris, after noticing that many drugstore options just don't get the job done. "Soft Services products differ in their targeted approach to addressing common skin concerns in the most considered, holistic way," they say. They recommend using their Buffing Bar ($28, softservices.co), Smoothing Solution ($34, softservices.co), and Carea Cream ($40, softservices.com), which are filled with ingredients like lactic acid and urea to soften and clear clogged pores and arnica and aloe vera to provide moisture and soothe irritation. Treatment, however, goes beyond the product level. Dr. Graf says limiting showers and keeping the water temperature lukewarm is key; dehydrating the skin will worsen the condition. She says to always keep skin moisturized and—most importantly—not to pick at the bumps.