Do You Have Areas of ‘Chicken Skin’? You Might Have Keratosis Pilaris

GoodRx /  Maryann Mikhail, MD

Keratosis pilaris chicken skin

Key Takeaways:

  • Keratosis pilaris (KP) is a common skin condition that isn’t contagious or harmful.
  • There’s no cure or way to prevent KP.
  • KP can improve with the right skin care, moisturizers, and prescription topicals. 

If you have keratosis pilaris (KP), you might see and feel rough, tiny bumps on your upper arms, thighs, or buttocks. KP isn’t harmful or contagious, but it can be bothersome. You can’t cure or prevent KP. But you can improve it with proper skin care, over-the-counter moisturizers, and prescription topical treatments. 

What is keratosis pilaris?

Keratosis pilaris (KP) is so common that it’s considered a variation of normal skin. Most people say it looks like plucked chicken skin and feels like rough sandpaper. KP can be reddish or purple in light skin, darkly colored in skin of color, or it can blend in with the color of your skin. The most common places you’ll find KP are the outer arms, thighs, and buttocks. But it can also affect other areas, like the face. Some people find it itchy or irritating. It’s not dangerous and not contagious.

What causes keratosis pilaris?

The root cause of KP is when dead skin cells cause a buildup of keratin at the openings of hair follicles. In some cases, the keratin plug looks like a pimple. Unlike actual acne pimples, these don’t contain skin surface bacteria. 

We don’t know exactly why the keratin buildup happens. But it might be related to changes in the skin’s barrier function. It isn’t autoimmune, infectious, or triggered by any particular food. KP is often linked to eczema. And it tends to get worse in the winter or in low humidity, when the skin tends to dry out more easily. It’s also been linked to having overweight. 

Who gets keratosis pilaris?

KP is very common. It affects 50 to 80% of adolescents and 40% of adults. It runs in families and is associated with some genetic conditions. It’s more common in people with dry skin and eczema. 

Some risk factors for KP include:

  • Having a family member with KP
  • Asthma
  • Hay fever
  • Excess body weight
  • Ichthyosis vulgaris, a condition characterized by very dry skin that looks like fish scales

What can I do to improve my keratosis pilaris?

For most people, KP improves with age. There’s no way to completely prevent or cure it. Sun exposure can help, but too much sun increases your risk of getting skin cancer. The best thing to do for KP is gentle skin care. This means:

  • Take just one short shower a day with warm water (not hot).
  • Use a gentle soap that contains ceramide (for example, Cetaphil Restoraderm and CeraVe Hydrating Body Wash).
  • Exfoliate gently with a loofah, buff puff, or washcloth. Avoid scrubbing. 
  • Moisturize with a cream within 5 minutes of showering. Some good options are Aveeno, CeraVe and Cetaphil Restoraderm 
  • Reapply moisturizer 2 to 3 times a day. 
  • Avoid popping, picking, or scratching the bumps.
  • Consider using a humidifier when the air is dry.


Treatment options for KP include over-the-counter topicals, prescriptions medications, and cosmetic procedures. 

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