The best treatments for keratosis pilaris in 2024

The best treatments for keratosis pilaris in 2024

What is keratosis pilaris and what causes it?

Keratosis pilaris causes bumps on the skin that are commonly described as goosebumps, “strawberry skin” or “chicken skin” due to their small, rough and scaly appearance, according to experts. These bumps come from dead skin cells building up and clogging hair follicles, which creates a roughness on the surface of the skin. They can appear as red, white or skin-colored bumps, and they’re typically found on the upper arms, thighs and buttocks of both adults and children (often worsening around puberty), dermatologists told us.

There isn’t necessarily a cause of keratosis pilaris. Instead, it’s mostly hereditary and more likely to occur among people who are prone to eczema, dermatologists say.

For many people, keratosis pilaris can flare up with hormonal fluctuations, like around the menstrual cycle, during pregnancy or puberty. Symptoms also typically flare up during the wintertime when the humidity is low and the skin is the driest.

How we picked the best treatments for keratosis pilaris

Maintaining a well-balanced skin care routine using products with exfoliating ingredients and moisturizing regularly is best for people who struggle with keratosis pilaris, according to dermatologists. When choosing moisturizing creams, lotions and body washes to help tame bumpy skin, our experts recommend keeping in mind the following factors:

Product type: The best way to manage your keratosis pilaris symptoms is to combine exfoliating and moisturizing products. Consider moisturizing creams, lotions and body washes that prevent the skin from drying out or getting irritated, especially when you’re exfoliating regularly.

Exfoliants: Look for chemical exfoliants like lactic acid, salicylic acid and urea, which help remove excess dead skin cells, according to our experts.

Hydrating ingredients: Consider ingredients like glycerin, hyaluronic acid and ceramides to hydrate the skin, manage KP symptoms and prevent bumps from getting irritated over time, especially with consistent exfoliation. Anti-inflammatory ingredients like niacinamide can also help reduce the appearance of bumps.

How to treat keratosis pilaris

Though it may naturally go away as you get older, keratosis pilaris isn’t a curable skin condition, experts say. However, you can reduce the appearance of bumps and smooth out the skin’s texture with the right treatments.

The most effective treatment is using keratolytics — also known as chemical exfoliators — that remove the build up of dead skin cells. There are a few main types of keratolytic agents to consider:

Alpha hydroxy acids: The most popular AHAs to reduce keratosis pilaris symptoms include lactic acid and glycolic acid. They gently dissolve dead skin cells and lead to cell turnover, which creates smoother, more even-toned skin, according to our experts.

Beta hydroxy acids: You’ll often come across salicylic acid in skin care products. It’s the most common BHA that, like AHAs, helps buff away dead skin cells and unclogs pores.

Urea: This ingredient is both a humectant (which draws moisture to the skin) and an exfoliator, which means it can moisturize the skin while also reducing dead skin buildup at the same time. Urea is available in various strengths ranging from 20% and 40%, though you don’t really need that high of a strength to reduce KP symptoms.

These ingredients are usually found in cleansers, body washes and daily moisturizers. Many of these exfoliants also have a combination of hydrating ingredients, which makes them more tolerable to use on a daily basis. “When you’re using other ingredients that moisturize and hydrate [the skin], you’re protecting it from becoming damaged or irritated,” says Garshick.

To keep symptoms at bay, consistency is key: You can apply exfoliating keratosis pilaris treatments once or twice per day, as long as your skin tolerates, and pair it with a gentle moisturizer, according to our experts. If you have very sensitive skin, you can limit your exfoliation to one or two times per week. But once you step out of that routine, keratosis pilaris symptoms usually come back.

You can also opt for a gentle physical exfoliant to help remove the dead skin, but make sure to not overdo it: You should limit your physical exfoliation to once or twice per week. Also, avoid using harsh scrubs with beads, which can actually exacerbate the issue, according to our experts.

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