Fabiola Mejia is a freelance writer from the North Shore of Boston. She has written for publications such as Tinybeans, Latina Moms, Reviewed, Insider, and FIERCE on topics of beauty, mental health, and parenting. Her other interests include gardening, traveling, and all forms of music.
The skin on your body is just as important as the skin on your face, but it’s often either neglected or treated too aggressively. This is especially true for those who have a skin condition called Keratosis Pilaris, or KP, which causes dry, bumpy skin. In my personal experience, not fully understanding what keratosis pilaris is and how to properly treat it, all the harsh scrubbing I did daily to get rid of the affected areas on my thighs and arms did nothing to help, which led me to feel insecure and cover up even in the warmer seasons. I did this for years until I started to do some research.
In order to help others to better understand KP, we had the pleasure of speaking to Nicole S. Gunasekera, MD, MBA, FAAD, who studied dermatology at Harvard Medical School and is the co-director of the Skin of Color Clinic at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. She offered valuable insight on how to approach keratosis pilaris and even gave us some of her favorite keratosis pilaris lotions and scrubs that can help smoothen and moisturize KP bumps.
“Keratosis pilaris is a harmless skin condition that causes dry bumps and commonly affects the arms, upper thighs, and buttocks,” Dr. Gunasekera tells us. She explains that the bumps are caused by a buildup of keratin, a protein found in our skin that blocks our hair follicles and pores. While the bumps can be the same color as our skin, they can also be “hyperpigmented in darker skin”. When I asked her how keratosis pilaris is diagnosed, Dr. Gunasekera responded that she can typically identify the condition simply by looking at her patient’s skin.
Dr. Gunasekera filled us in on who is especially at risk of having keratosis pilaris. It was interesting to learn that this skin condition can affect all ages, races, and genders. It’s very common among young children and, for those who develop it at an early age, it tends to get better and clear up as they enter their 30s. She added that people with dry skin or eczema can be more prone to KP and it can also run in families.
Not mincing words, Dr. Gunasekera was direct in explaining that keratosis pilaris is pretty hard to treat, “but it can get better and we can make the bumps smoother.” The main thing to keep in mind when treating KP is to use exfoliating and moisturizing agents in your body’s skin routine. Some ingredients to look for in keratosis pilaris lotions or exfoliators are salicylic acid, ammonium lactate, lactic acid, and urea which will help to loosen keratin buildup. She also mentioned that retinoids like adapalene and tretinoin can be effective in treating KP but can be too irritating. With patience and persistence, you should start to see improvement within six to eight weeks but can take longer.
Those who have keratosis pilaris might notice that it gets worse in the winter because there is less humidity and moisture in the air. Dr. Gunasekera also warned that being aggressive with treatments can exacerbate KP. “Over scrubbing, scratching, and picking can cause more hyperpigmentation and scarring,” she noted. Furthermore, sometimes fragrances and dyes can irritate eczema and KP in people with sensitive skin. The best routine is to exfoliate gently one to two times a week and moisturize right after. She strongly emphasized that “slow and steady; patience and consistency are really the keys to making it better.”
Though keratosis pilaris is a skin condition that doesn’t clear up overnight, there are many products that are effective in helping to keep your skin smooth and less itchy. The first three on our list are popular choices and have been shown to improve KP symptoms. Dr. Gunasekera has also given us four of her favorite products that she recommends to her patients with KP.
When it comes to keratosis pilaris lotions, this clear exfoliating gel can be used once a day under your favorite moisturizer as a gentle yet effective exfoliator. It helps to treat skin problems such as ingrown hairs, and discoloration and is formulated with ingredients like lactic acid, aloe, and Centella Asiatica. It also won a 2021 Beauty Innovator Award.
This First Aid Beauty scrub can be found at your local Sephora or Ulta and is a popular pick for treating keratosis pilaris because it helps to smoothen bumpy skin and uneven texture. It includes both glycolic and lactic acids as well as vitamin E.
For optimal moisturization with exfoliating components, this AmLactin lotion is your best bet and can easily be found at any drugstore.
This scrub is best used in the shower and should be left on the affected areas for a few minutes before washing off. Glycolic and salicylic acid are included in this formula as well as other beneficial ingredients like niacinamide and squalene.
Another award-winning exfoliator, this product is both good for your body and good for the planet! Using bits of volcanic pumice and a trio of exfoliating acids (salicylic, glycolic, and lactic), this product promises smooth and softer skin.
This budget-friendly choice is easily found in most drugstores and really does a good job exfoliating and moisturizing the skin. While the salicylic acid in this lotion helps to remove dead skin cells, the hyaluronic acid and ceramides help to retain moisture and maintain a strong and healthy skin barrier.
Lastly, this daily cream has a thicker consistency than the CeraVe lotion but is also shown to improve skin texture. The star ingredients here are the urea and the shea butter which help to lock in moisture as it smooths bumpy skin.