In name, keratosis pilaris sounds pretty serious, so if your doctor tells you that you might have it, at first, it can be a little scary.
The good news is that keratosis pilaris, or KP is scary in name only.
Keratosis pilaris is a common, but harmless, skin condition that is often misdiagnosed as acne or other skin issues. When we say common, we really mean common.
According to some estimates, some 40-50% of the adult population might have KP, and that is even higher in teens at around 50-80%. Most people have such mild cases they don’t notice it, while others are plagued by the condition.
Cause of Keratosis Pilaris
As far as what causes keratosis pilaris, doctors know what is behind the condition, but not what is behind who gets it. Keratosis pilaris is caused by a buildup of keratin in the skin. Keratin is a protein that protects the skin from infections and other things that might cause it harm. The buildup of the keratin, with an individual who has keratosis pilaris, causes a plug that blocks the opening of a hair follicle.
We do know that people with dry skin are more likely to have keratosis pilaris, and as a result, the condition is usually experienced by more people in the winter months, when there isn’t as much moisture in the air. Keratosis pilaris also often affects people who also have other skin conditions, such as eczema.
Identifying Keratosis Pilaris
There is no test for keratosis pilaris. Your doctor will be able to tell that you have it just by looking at your skin. If you’re wondering whether you should go to the doctor to be diagnosed with keratosis pilaris, we think it’s always a good idea. At the end of the day, you aren’t a health professional and it might very well be something you aren’t familiar with.
Now, if you’re looking to self-diagnose before going to the doctor, you should know that there are two primary kinds of keratosis pilaris. While there are other varieties of the condition, these two are the most common.
1. Keratosis Pilaris Rubra
This kind of keratosis pilaris presents as red, inflamed bumps that often look like acne pustules. This can lead to issues with misdiagnosis, but you’ll be happy to know that this variant is not the most common.
2. Keratosis Pilaris Alba
The most common kind of keratosis pilaris is keratosis pilaris alba. It is from this variant that KP gets its nickname: chicken skin. In the case of keratosis pilaris alba, the skin appears rough, dry and bumpy, but without irritation. It might look almost like goosebumps.
With both keratosis pilaris rubra and keratosis pilaris alba, the bumps appear most often on the upper arms, legs and buttocks. In some cases, they can occur on the face and look like acne, except that they will be dry and rough, and sometimes itchy.
Treating Keratosis Pilaris
Unfortunately, there’s no treatment for keratosis pilaris, nor is there any way to prevent the condition. However, there are things you can do for your skin if you have keratosis pilaris to keep yourself comfortable and free from the itching associated with the condition.
For one, you should keep your skin moist. Dry skin makes keratosis pilaris much worse, so remember to moisturise regularly when your skin is still damp from bathing. This ensures the moisture is sealed in, which can prevent keratin from building up.
Other treatments you can do at home include having a portable humidifier in the places where you spend a lot of time, such as in your home, to add moisture to the air and stop the skin from drying out. When you’re treating your skin, remember not to scrub the keratin plugs as this will only aggravate them. Instead, gently cleanse them using a mild cleanser, and avoid spending too long in the hot shower, which can strip oils from the skin.
If the condition is quite bad, you might want to go and see a dermatologist. There are other treatment options available (again these are treatments not cures), including:
1. Ammonium lactate
Available as a prescription cream or lotion that softens the skin and reduces keratin build up.
A good moisturiser for dry, rough skin, this can help loosen dead skin cells that contribute to the plugs. There are some side effects you should talk with your doctor about.
3. Topical corticosteroids
A kind of anti-inflammatory drug that helps lower the cell turnover by suppressing the immune system, thereby preventing a keratin buildup. These are short-term only, and usually prescribed for temporary relief of severe keratosis pilaris.
4. Toptical retinoids
These come from vitamin A and work by encouraging cell turnover, which stops the follicles from being plugged. They don’t work for everyone, and some patients find them too harsh and drying, or find that they cause irritation, redness and peeling.
How do you deal with it?
If you become concerned about any symptoms, please seek immediate medical attention. We have some hotlines and suggested websites for further information and advice.
SAHM takes no responsibility for any illness, injury or death caused by misuse of this information. All information provided is correct at time of publication.
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