Chicken Skin: How to Get Rid of Those Tiny Red Bumps on Your Arms

There is no cure for keratosis pilaris, but there are methods to deal with it.

kerotosis pilaris chicken skin

It’s shorts and sleeveless season! And that means about 40% of us will notice hard little bumps scattered on our arms, shoulders, backs, butts or thighs that typically don’t come with other symptoms aside from occasional itchiness. If you’ve tried to treat these stubborn growths in the past, you know that traditional cleansers and scrubs have no clearing effect.

The annoying yet harmless condition is known as keratosis pilaris. A variant of eczema, the bumps tend to plague people who have a family history of atopic dermatitis—or dry skin marked by scaly patches. Dry weather aggravates keratosis pilaris, so you may see more bumps during the winter months, but heat and humidity can also trigger the condition. It’s more of a bother in the summer when we’re wearing skin-baring styles, and the last thing you want is chicken skin at the beach.

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The problem starts when extra skin cells cluster around hair follicles, causing a knob to form and elevate. The hair can then get trapped underneath the cells, sometimes turning into a brown or red dot that you can see in the center of the bump. Unfortunately, there’s no cure or way to entirely stop the process yet.

But here’s the good news: Occasionally, keratosis pilaris can get better as you get older. And if you don’t outgrow it, certain strategies can help you keep things under control and your skin looking much better.

What Doesn’t Work:
Picking. Now, we all know you’re not supposed to pick skin, but some people think that picking these non-acne bumps is harmless. Not so! Picking is out of the question and can lead to unsightly scarring that’s far worse than the bump you started out with, so resist the urge.

Scrubbing. Rub all you want, but you’ll only end up with bumps that are now irritated and red. The problem is not the top surface of skin, but the building up of cells underneath the surface, so no amount of superficial exfoliation will clear the issue.

What Works:
Chemical exfoliators. Both glycolic acid and lactic acid can help a little bit, especially in the form of a wash. I recommend Vivité Exfoliating Cleanser with 15 percent glycolic acid.

Retinoids. I give patients topical retinoids to help improve the condition by going deep below the surface of skin to exfoliate cells. You can tolerate a higher percentage ingredient on your body than on your face, and I recommend SkinMedica Retinol Complex 1.0 as a top over-the-counter option. (Also on Amazon.)

Moisturization. To instantly make bumps look and feel better, use a deeply hydrating moisturizer. This will definitely help soften the feel and look of bumps, though keep in mind that it won’t help prevent the condition from forming if you’re genetically prone.

Gentle cleansing. Harsh soaps can dry out skin and exacerbate the rough texture of bumps. I recommend using a hydrating soap free of detergent such as  (also on Amazon) or  (also on Amazon). And be sure to moisturize bump-prone areas within a minute of stepping out of the shower.

Sunscreen. Again, while sunscreen won’t prevent the condition from forming, it can make a significant difference in preventing bumps from worsening and looking more obvious. The sun’s damaging rays are known to aggravate keratosis pilaris. Wear sunscreen of at least SPF 30 every day to encourage smoother skin.

Remember, these bumps are extremely common, so don’t feel so self-conscious about them. By incorporating these simple habits that are good for your overall health too, you can feel more confident putting on that tank top or sundress this summer with the best accessory there is: glowing skin!

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