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Keratosis Pilaris

By

Mercedes E. Gonzalez

, MD, University of Miami Miller School of Medicine

Last full review/revision Mar 2018| Content last modified Mar 2018
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Keratosis pilaris is a common disorder in which dead cells shed from the upper layer of skin plug the openings of hair follicles.

The exact cause is not known, although heredity often plays a role. Also, people with atopic dermatitis are more likely to have keratosis pilaris. However, keratosis pilaris does not seem to be a hypersensitivity or immune system disorder.

Symptoms

The bumps that occur in keratosis pilaris are small, skin-colored, or red and dry. They appear at hair follicles and make the skin feel rough. Sometimes they have plugs in the center that resemble small pimples. Generally, these bumps do not itch or hurt and cause only cosmetic problems, although sometimes they cause itching. The upper arms, thighs, and buttocks are most commonly affected. The face may break out as well, particularly in children. The bumps are more likely to develop in cold weather and to clear up in the summer. The skin may appear red.

Diagnosis

  • A doctor's examination of the skin

Usually, the doctor makes the diagnosis of keratosis pilaris based on the appearance and feel of the skin in typically affected areas.

Treatment

  • Specialized skin moisturizers that contain urea or α-hydroxy acids

  • Sometimes laser treatments

Treatment of keratosis pilaris is not needed unless the person is bothered by the appearance of the disorder. Skin moisturizers with urea or α-hydroxy acids such as glycolic or lactic acid are the main treatment. Petrolatum ointment, creams with salicylic acid, lactic acid, urea, or prescription exfoliating treatments such as adapalene or tretinoin can also be used.

Doctors may use a pulsed dye laser (see Using Lasers to Treat Skin Problems) to treat facial redness if it is present and troublesome to the person.

Keratosis pilaris is likely to come back when treatment is stopped.

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