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Keratosis pilaris

  • Definition
    • Keratosis pilaris is a common skin condition in which a protein in the skin called keratin forms hard plugs within hair follicles.

  • Causes
    • Keratosis pilaris is harmless (benign). It seems to run in families. It is more common in people who have very dry skin, or who have atopic dermatitis (eczema).

      The condition is generally worse in winter and often clears in the summer.

  • Symptoms
    • Symptoms may include:

      • Small bumps that look like "goose bumps" on the back of the upper arms and thighs
      • Bumps feel like very rough sandpaper
      • Skin-colored bumps are the size of a grain of sand
      • Slight pinkness may be seen around some bumps
      • Bumps may appear on the face and be mistaken for acne
  • Exams and Tests
    • The health care provider can usually diagnose this condition by looking at your skin. Tests are usually not needed.

  • Treatment
    • Treatment may include:

      • Moisturizing lotions to soothe the skin and help it look better
      • Skin creams that contain urea, lactic acid, glycolic acid, salicylic acid, tretinoin, or vitamin D
      • Steroid creams to reduce redness

      Improvement often takes months and the bumps are likely to come back.

  • Outlook (Prognosis)
    • Keratosis pilaris may fade slowly with age.

  • When to Contact a Medical Professional
    • Call your provider if the bumps are bothersome and do not get better with lotions you buy without a prescription.

  • References
    • Desai NC, Silverman RA. Keratosis pilaris and variants. In: Lebwohl MG, Heymann WR, Berth-Jones J, Coulson I, eds. Treatment of Skin Disease: Comprehensive Therapeutic Strategies. 4th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2014:chap 118.

      Marks JG, Miller JJ. Inflammatory papules. In: Marks JG, Miller JJ, eds. Lookingbill and Marks' Principles of Dermatology. 5th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2013:chap 11.