No more chicken skin
If you’re like 40% of the population, you’ll have those annoying red bumps on the outside of your arms, top of your thighs and even on your buttocks – you know the ones, they sort of make you look like a plucked chicken.
I am one of them, but was very excited to recently discover that a) these red bumps are an actual condition, and b) you can do something about it!
I always assumed that I just had unfortunate skin and that these rough, red spots that looked like angry goosebumps were simply something I would always have. I was delighted to find out otherwise!
The condition is called keratosis pilaris (or follicular keratosis) and is partly hereditary. It’s more common in women than men, and while around 40% of adults have it, around 50-80% of teenagers have it.
Interestingly it can even be present in little bubs and often appears clearly around the age of 2. In fact, I've noticed that while my 4-year-old daughter doesn't have it at all, my 2-year-old son has it on his outer arms, the tops of his thighs and on his cheeks.
Although hereditary, it’s also more common in people with dry skin, eczema or vitamin A deficiency. The most common areas for it to occur are the outer sides of the upper arms, the tops of the thighs and the buttocks – however it can also occur on the lower arms, hands and even the face and eyebrows (where it is often mistaken for acne). According to the British Medical Journal, 92% of affected people have it on the backs of the upper arms and 59% of people affected have it on their thighs.
The condition is usually more apparent during the colder winter months and often reduces noticeably in the summer. During the cooler months there is less moisture in the air which exacerbates the problem.
There are actually several different types of keratosis pilaris, including keratosis pilaris rubra (which presents as inflamed red pimple-like bumps on the arms, head or legs), keratosis pilaris alba (rough, bumpy skin that has no irritation) and keratosis pilaris rubra faceii (a reddish rash on the cheeks that can be mistaken for acne).
But what is it??
Keratosis pilaris occurs due to an overproduction of keratin – a natural protein in the outermost protective layer of the skin. The excess keratin, which is cream in colour, surrounds and entraps the hair follicle in the pore and a hard plug then forms. This process is known as hyperkeratinization.
The bumps often contain an ingrown hair that has coiled as a result of the keratinised skin forming a cap on the hair follicle, which prevents the hair from exiting. The hair then becomes ingrown as it is trapped within the follicle, causing the red bump to become more pronounced.
The bumps are rarely sore or itchy and the condition really only presents cosmetic consequences. It is important however to resist the urge to pick at the bumps as this can cause more irritation, and also cause the skin to become infected.
Bumps be gone
The good news is that it is possible to get rid of these unsightly red bumps, and that it is quite easy to do so. The key is moisture, moisture, moisture! The simplest treatment is just to keep the skin moist by frequently using a good moisturiser.
Specialist moisturisers can help – in particular, many people with sensitive skin or skin problems have reported that Moo Goo is extremely effective in eliminating the condition altogether.
To help loosen the plugs, gentle exfoliating will help, using a washcloth, loofah sponge, pumice sponge or mild exfoliating body wash. The combination of regularly exfoliating and moisturising daily (ideally morning and night) will see a dramatic reduction and eventual disappearance of the bumps altogether. Increasing the humidity in the bedroom has also been shown to help.
It’s a good idea to avoid common soaps and shower gels – these are often too harsh on the skin and dry it out or change the skin’s natural pH balance (which destroys the protective barrier of the skin). Instead, use formulations designed for sensitive skin.
Shaving aggravates the condition (as it can cut the tops off the bumps because they are raised). Waxing can also make the condition worse as waxing weakens and softens the hairs, which causes them to become trapped and ingrown. Laser hair removal can be helpful in treating the condition as it permanently removes the hair which causes the bumps to be less pronounced for many people.
By Sunny de Bruyn