I've struggled with keratosis pilaris (KP) for as long as I can remember-hundreds of tiny white bumps mapped across the backs of my a rms, legs, butt, and even my face. Keratosis pilaris is a genetic skin condition, and it runs in my family.
KP is actually pretty common. If you're not familiar with the clinical term, you may have heard it called "chicken skin," because it resembles the bumps on a freshly plucked bird. Charming, right? Keratosis pilaris is actually a clump or buildup of keratin around the hair follicle, Lily Talakoub, M.D., a dermatologist at the McLean Dermatology and Skincare Center, tells SELF. The clogged pores can cause inflammation or redness in the area, and they make the skin look and feel rough. Dry skin, cold weather, pregnancy, high levels of estrogen, shaving , or waxing can all make KP worse.
Growing up, my mother said to exfoliate and moisturize to treat the bumps-and by all means, do not pick at them. I did not listen, of course, and sadly spent many teenage summers too much to wear tank tops or shorts because I did not want anyone to notice the scars.
Doctors say the best way to treat KP is to exfoliate and moisturize-so my mom was right. But it's important to be mindful about overexfoliating. Whether you're using a loofah for mechanical exfoliation or using lactic or glycolic acid for a chemical exfoliation, you should limit yourself to once or twice a week, dermatologist and psychiatrist Amy Wechsler, MD, tells SELF.
For a mild yet effective treatment, Dr. Wechsler suggests exfoliating with a brown sugar scrub, microdermabrasion (a device that gently sands down and softens the skin), or urea gels. Follow that up with a moisturizer that contains lactic, salicylic, or glycolic acid. KP on your body can withstand a rich, moisturizing butter or heavy cream, but for bumps on your face, it's best to use a lighter moisturizer.
And both doctors agree that picking at KP is a bad idea. “A misconception many people with KP have is that they think it’s acne and treat it like it’s acne," Dr. Wechsler explains, but that only makes the condition worse. "Others think if they scrub and pick at the bumps it'll make it better, but it's the opposite. If you have an unconscious habit, give yourself something small to play with, like a rubber band or a scrunchy or a Rubix cube, and wear long sleeves so you have less access. "
There is no cure for KP; all you can do is a regular routine. My own KP has improved over time, which is normal, since it's the most common in children and typically fades by 30. But I'm sure it's a relatable experience, whether you have KP or not). Because of my experience with KP, I have been informed experimentally with skin-care products basically my entire life, but recently dove back in with vengeance, in search of that holy grail product that will help me manage this condition. Here are eight products that have a difference for me.