The acne on your arms isn’t really acne

Does this sound familiar? Warmer weather is here but you are embarrassed to put on that sleeveless dress because you have strange, rough patches of “acne” on the back of your arms. And no matter what you do to treat it, it doesn’t go away. In fact, picking at it makes your skin more red and inflamed.


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That is because your problem is most likely not acne, but a common condition known as Keratosis Pilaris (KP for short).  Skin with KP is fondly known as “chicken skin” because of the resemblance to the skin of a plucked chicken.  And if you treat it the same way as acne, you will cause more irritation.

Feel silly that you had no idea what this condition was?  Don’t! 50% of Americans have KP, yet most people don’t know it is an actual skin condition or that it can be treated.  Yes, you heard correctly, Keratosis Pilaris can be brought under control so you can banish the chicken skin and feel free to bare those arms!

Do I have KP?

Symptoms include small white, red or brown bumps, typically on the upper arms, legs, bum or face (cheeks).  Skin in the area of the bumps may also be dry, rough and sometimes itchy.  The symptoms may become worse in winter, when humidity is low and skin tends to be drier.

What causes KP?

Similar to acne, KP is the result of a blocked hair follicle.  However, KP is caused by the buildup of keratin — a hard protein that protects your skin from harmful substances and infection. The keratin forms a scaly plug that blocks the opening of the hair follicle. Usually many plugs form, causing patches of rough, bumpy skin. Why keratin builds up is unknown. But it may occur in association with genetic diseases or with other skin conditions, such eczema (atopic dermatitis). KP is also hereditary.


Many people will outgrow their KP by middle age, while others will have it for their entire life. Treatment options do not cure the condition, but most options, including medicated creams and home remedies, will improve the appearance of the skin for as long as you use them.

Medicated creams:

Topical exfoliants. Medicated creams containing alpha-hydroxy acid, lactic acid, salicylic acid or urea moisturize and soften dry skin while helping to loosen and remove dead skin cells. Depending on their strength, certain creams are available over-the-counter and others require a prescription.

Topical retinoids. Derived from vitamin A, retinoids work by promoting cell turnover and preventing the plugging of the hair follicle. Retinoids may be an effective treatment, but they can cause bothersome skin irritations, such as severe dryness, redness and peeling. Tretinoin (Retin-A, Renova, Avita) and tazarotene (Avage, Tazorac) are examples of topical retinoids.

Self-care to keep skin moisturized and comfortable.

  • Don’t scratch at the bumps or rub your skin roughly.
  • Use warm water rather than hot for bathing and showering.
  • Limit your time in the water.
  • Try mild soap that has added oil or fat.
  • Use thick moisturizers generously on the skin.
  • Use a humidifier at home.

Give medicated creams 2 weeks to begin to show results.  If long-term use of creams and self-care options don’t work, then Laser therapy is an option to treat KP with severe redness and inflammation. This type of treatment may require repeat sessions over the course of a few months, depending on your response.

What are some of the ways you treat your Keratosis Pilaris?  Share with us in the comments or on Facebook.

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The acne on your arms isn’t really acne

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