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What Causes Keratosis Pilaris?

Words By Martina

Ever wonder why your skin might be covered in small, red bumps in certain areas? There’s no pain, no discomfort but it just looks a bit off? You’re most likely experiencing something called keratosis pilaris. Keratosis pilaris causes our skin to look unappealing but what exactly is this skin condition and what causes it in the first place?

What is Keratosis Pilaris?

Don’t let the name scare you. Keratosis pilaris is actually quite a harmless skin condition but with a serious sounding name. To bring the point home of how it’s not something you need to panic about, its other known name is chicken skin! That should take some of the worry out of your mind! Keratosis pilaris, or chicken skin as I prefer to call it (come on, you know it’s funny!) is quite common. In fact it’s so common that 50-80% of adolescents and around 40% of adults will have had it.1 The skin condition is known for its dry, rough patches of skin that are covered in tiny little bumps that could be red, brown, skin coloured or even white which makes it look like chicken skin or goose bumps.2 It’s harmless and doesn’t usually cause irritation but it just doesn't look so pretty. It can technically show up anywhere where you have pores and hair follicles (even on your hands!) but the most common places to see keratosis pilaris are on the cheeks, the upper arms, the thighs and the ‘derriere’.2

Keratosis Pilaris Causes

Think of keratosis pilaris as similar to a collection of ingrown hairs. The bumps are actually caused by our pores being clogged by dead skin cells and a hard protein called keratin.2,3  This is what causes these bumps on our skin that block the hair follicles. Yes, it sounds gross to have your skin covered in pockets of dead skin cells and protein but at least it’s not contagious or painful.


The reason why the keratin and dead skin cells build up in our pores is the confusing part. Scientists aren’t quite sure what causes it but think it may be a genetic condition2 (thanks Mom!). Another possible cause is that it is associated with other skin conditions like atopic dermatitis, ichthyosis vulgaris and xerosis, for example.1,3 Dry skin makes keratosis pilaris more noticeable so it’s always a good tactic to keep your skin moisturized and hydrated, especially in the winter when our skin gets dry. Skin MD Natural Shielding Lotion is a good way to do that, if you find yourself with patches of chicken skin.

It Will Go Away

Even though it’s not ideal to have our skin covered in unsightly bumps, keratosis pilaris does usually go away on its own by the time we are 30 and usually way before then – so there is light at the end of the bumpy tunnel. There are some simple ways to help with the symptoms of keratosis pilaris in your day-to-day life but it usually doesn’t need any medical treatment which is always great news. Even though it is considered a harmless skin condition, if you have any doubts about what it might be or if you’re feeling worried, do a skin assessment or talk to your dermatologist. 

In the meantime, keep your skin moisturized, don’t try to pick at the bumps that keratosis pilaris causes – this will only irritate the skin and cause more inflammation – and look forward to the day when it will no longer be visible on your skin! (And don’t get mad at your mom or dad either!) 




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