Keratosis Pilaris: Symptoms, Causes & Treatment Options

Updated in March 2022

Keratosis pilaris, also known as follicular keratosis or lichen pilaris, is a very common skin condition characterized by the appearance of tiny red, or white, bumps on the skin, especially in the arms, buttocks, and legs.

These tiny bumps are very similar to small pimples but do not hurt or itch. They occur due to an excessive production of keratin, which ends up accumulating in the hair follicles. 

Since it is not a serious condition, keratosis pilaris does not, usually, require any type of specific treatment. However, if you would like to treat it for aesthetic reasons, a doctor or dermatologist can prescribe medicated creams that help reduce the appearance of the tiny bumps.  

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Main symptoms

Keratosis pilaris is characterized by the appearance of tiny red, or white, bumps on the skin, especially in the arms, legs, buttocks, or cheeks. These bumps tend to appear in the locations where skin is more dry and rough. The tiny bumps caused by keratosis pilaris do not itch, hurt or cause any type of discomfort.

It is common for keratosis pilaris normally to appear during childhood or adolescence, and to clear up naturally at the age of 20 to 30.

What causes keratosis pilaris

Causes of keratosis pilaris are not yet very clear, however, the condition seems to happen due to an excessive keratin production, which gets accumulated in the hair follicles and leads to the development of tiny bumps on the skin.

Keratosis pilaris tends to be more frequent in people who use tight clothes, have dry skin or any type of skin problem, such as atopic dermatitis. People who have allergic diseases, like asthma or rhinitis, also seem to present a higher risk of developing keratosis pilaris.

A lack of vitamin A can also contribute to the development of keratosis pilaris, therefore some doctors recommend consuming foods rich in vitamin A, such as cabbage, tomato or carrots. 

Treatment options

Since it is not a serious condition, keratosis pilaris does not usually require any type of treatment. However, if a patient wishes to pursue treatment for aesthetic reasons, the doctor or dermatologist can prescribe some creams that help hydrate the skin and reduce the appearance of the tiny bumps:

  • Creams with salicylic acid or urea: help remove dead skin cells, encouraging deep skin hydration. The use of these types of cream can cause some redness or a burning sensation in the place where they are applied, but that clears in just a few minutes;
  • Creams with retinoic acid or Vitamin A: promote suitable hydration of the skin layers, reducing the appearance of the tiny bumps.

The tiny bumps from follicular keratosis tend to get smaller with time, but it can take many years for them to disappear completely. They typically resolve after the age of 30.

There are also some simple lifestyle changes that can help with reducing the appearance of the tiny bumps, such as avoiding very hot showers, not spending more than 10 minutes in the shower, hydrating the skin after taking a bath and preventing excessive friction against the skin with clothes and towels. It is also recommended to avoid prolonged exposure in the sun and to use of a daily sunscreen.