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Keratosis pilaris: Who gets and causes

Who gets keratosis pilaris?

People of all ages and races have this common skin condition. For most people, it begins at one of the following times:

  • Before 2 years of age

  • During the teenage years

Because keratosis pilaris usually begins early in life, children and teenagers are most likely to have this skin condition. Fewer adults have it because keratosis pilaris can fade and gradually disappear.

Child with keratosis pilaris

This skin condition often appears before 2 years of age.

Child with keratosis pilaris

The bumps may clear by the time a child reaches late childhood or adolescence. Hormones, however, may cause another flare-up around puberty. When keratosis pilaris develops in the teenage years, it often clears by one’s mid-20s.

Keratosis pilaris can also continue into one’s adult years. Women are a bit more likely to have keratosis pilaris.

What increases a person’s risk of getting keratosis pilaris?

You are more likely to develop it if you have one or more of the following:

  • Close blood relatives who have keratosis pilaris

  • Asthma

  • Dry skin

  • Eczema (atopic dermatitis)

  • Excess body weight, which makes you overweight or obese

  • Hay fever

  • Ichthyosis vulgaris (a skin condition that causes very dry skin)

  • Melanoma and are taking vemurafenib (Zelboraf®), a targeted therapy medicine approved to treat melanoma that has spread

When treating melanoma with vemurafenib (Zelboraf®)

If you develop small, rough bumps while taking vemurafenib, you’ll likely see them within the first 8 weeks of starting the drug. The bumps may worsen as your dose increases; however, the skin tends to clear completely when you stop taking vemurafenib.

If the bumps on your skin bother you, applying one of the following can help while you are taking vemurafenib:

  • Ammonium lactate cream or lotion (12%): Apply it as directed by your dermatologist.
  • A moisturizer: A cream or ointment works best. Apply it after bathing and gently massage it into the skin with keratosis pilaris 2 or 3 times a day.

What causes keratosis pilaris?

Keratosis pilaris is not contagious. We get keratosis pilaris when dead skin cells clog our pores.

A pore is also called a hair follicle. Every hair on our body grows out of a hair follicle, so we have thousands of hair follicles. When dead skin cells clog many hair follicles, you feel the rough, dry patches of keratosis pilaris.

Image used with permission of the American Academy of Dermatology National Library of Dermatologic Teaching Slides.

Boyd KP, Vincent B, et. al. “Nonmalignant cutaneous findings associated with vemurafenib use in patients with metastatic melanoma.” J Am Acad Dermatol, 2012 Dec;67(6):1375–79.

Boza JC, Trindade EN, et. al. “Skin manifestations of obesity: a comparative study.” J Eur Acad Dermatol Venereol. 2012 Oct;26(10):1220-3.

Castela E, Chiaverini C, et. al. “Papular, profuse, and precocious keratosis pilaris.” Pediatr Dermatol. 2012 May-Jun;29(3):285-8.

Peters S, Bouchaab H, et. al. “Dramatic response of vemurafenib-induced cutaneous lesions upon switch to dual BRAF/MEK inhibition in a metastatic melanoma patient.” Melanoma Res. 2014 Oct;24(5):496-500.

Rinderknecht JD, Goldinger SM. “RASopathic skin eruptions during vemurafenib therapy.” PLoS One. 2013; 8(3): e58721. Published online Mar 14, 2013.

Schmitt JV, Lima BZ. “Keratosis pilaris and prevalence of acne vulgaris: a cross-sectional study.” An Bras Dermatol. 2014 Jan-Feb;89(1):91–5.

Thomas M, Khopkar US. “Keratosis pilaris revisited: Is it more than just a follicular keratosis?” Int J Trichology. 2012 Oct;4(4):255-8.

Yosipovitch G, DeVore A, et. al. “Obesity and the skin: Skin physiology and skin manifestations of obesity.” J Am Acad Dermatol. 2007 Jun;56(6):901–16.