With most of the country in the midst of a heat wave, men and women are baring more skin. Sleeveless tops are meant to make you feel cool — not embarrassed about the bumpy “chicken-skin” on the back of your arms. This common disorder is a condition referred to as keratosis pilaris (KP). The American Academy of Dermatology estimates that 20-40% of all adults are affected by KP.
- What causes KP: KP is caused when keratin (a skin protein), blocks the hair follicle and forms hard plugs. It is an autosomal dominant genetic trait with variable penetrance. This essentially means that most likely, someone else in your family also has KP.
- Is KP dangerous: KP is typically not dangerous, and actually, in most cases, there are no symptoms. Occasionally, pustules can develop within KP, indicating a bacterial infection and topical antibiotics may help in these cases.
- Can I cure KP: Unfortunately, KP cannot be cured as it is a disorder of keratinization. However, the appearance maybe significantly improved.
- What can I do to improve the appearance of KP:
- Lactic and glycolic acid containing moisturizers are mainstays of therapy. These mild acids are multi-taskers: they help the skin retain moisture and at the same time exfoliate and soften the skin. For maximal benefit, studies show that these mild acid moisturizers should be used at least twice daily for 3 weeks before a benefit is noticed.
- Avoid vigorous scrubs or harsh washcloths: This actually leads to more irritation and redness.
- Prescription strength topical steroids may be used for short periods of time if the KP is very red or irritated.
- Laser therapy: Vascular specific lasers such as the KTP and PDL may help permanently reduce the redness. However, the lasers do not treat the bumpy texture.
Of note, KP does become less prominent as we age. I guess there are benefits to getting older …