Welcome to Ask a Beauty Editor, our new column in which Sarah Jacoby, SELF’s senior health and beauty editor, goes on the hunt to find the science-backed answers to all of your skin-care questions. You can ask Sarah a question at email@example.com.
What exactly is keratosis pilaris and can I actually get rid of it? Does it get worse depending on the seasons and other factors?
First off, please know that you are faaaaaar from the only person dealing with this condition. “Keratosis pilaris is a very common skin condition,” Shari Lipner, M.D., Ph.D., dermatologist at Weill Cornell Medicine and New York-Presbyterian, tells SELF. “I get a lot of patients coming in specifically asking about it—and treatment for it.”
So what is keratosis pilaris exactly? It’s a condition that causes (totally harmless) tiny bumps on the skin that look like goosebumps or small pimples. But they’re not really pimples, Dr. Lipner says, they’re plugs of dead skin cells in your hair follicles. These bumps usually appear on the upper arms, front of the thighs, or (most often in children) on your cheeks. The condition itself is benign, but it can come with dryness or itchiness that may be unpleasant.
Unfortunately, for most people keratosis pilaris is a chronic condition so “we can’t offer a cure,” Dr. Lipner says. But as you noted it can wax and wane due to the weather or other factors. You might notice your symptoms more in the winter when the air is drier, for instance, or if you take long, hot showers that dry out your skin.
But if you happen to be dealing with a bout of keratosis pilaris right this second, there are some ways to manage it and even make it less noticeable. The first and most important thing is to moisturize, Dr. Lipner says—and it matters both how and when you do it.
You want to make sure to use thick creams or ointments rather than lotions (if you put them on the palm of your hand and turn it over, the products shouldn’t drip or run, Dr. Lipner advises) because these more effectively seal hydration into the skin. Dr. Lipner also specifically recommends looking for moisturizers that contain ingredients like urea or lactic acid, which tend to be an extra-thick consistency and will also help by gently exfoliating those dead cells off of your skin. Check out AmLactin Ultra Smoothing Intensely Hydrating Cream, $16, or KP Duty AHA Moisturizing Therapy, $38. A gentle exfoliating body scrub, such as First Aid Beauty KP Bump Eraser Body Scrub, $26, may help too.
The best time to moisturize is right after a shower or bath when your skin is still damp (but not, like, dripping wet). A thick cream will be able to seal that moisture in the skin. And you’ll want to moisturize two to three times every day, Dr. Lipner says. (But obviously you don’t have to take a shower every time you want to use your moisturizer.)
With a generous moisturizing and exfoliating regimen like this, most people with keratosis pilaris see some improvement, Dr. Lipner says. But if you’re still feeling frustrated, talk to a board-certified dermatologist about your other options. Those might include chemical peels, short courses of topical steroids, laser treatments, or microdermabrasion, Dr. Lipner says. “There are a lot of other options besides at-home treatments.”
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