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Keratosis pilaris: Self-care

How to treat keratosis pilaris at home

Keratosis pilaris causes tiny, rough feeling bumps to appear on the skin, most often on the upper arms and thighs. While treatment isn’t necessary for keratosis pilaris, if the itch, dryness, or appearance bother you, board-certified dermatologists recommend these tips.

Treating keratosis pilaris at home

Some people see clearer skin by treating their keratosis pilaris at home. This three-step plan may be all you need. Dermatologists recommend following this plan every day until you see clearer skin.

  1. Exfoliate gently. When you exfoliate your skin, you remove the dead skin cells from the surface. You can slough off these dead cells gently with a loofah, buff puff, or rough washcloth. Avoid scrubbing your skin, which tends to irritate the skin and worsen keratosis pilaris.

  2. Apply a product called a keratolytic. After exfoliating, apply this skin care product. It, too, helps remove the excessive buildup of dead skin cells. Another name for this product is chemical exfoliator.

    Whether it’s called a keratolytic or chemical exfoliator, you’ll want to use a product that contains one of the following ingredients:

    • Alpha hydroxyl acid
    • Glycolic acid
    • Lactic acid
    • A retinoid (retinol, tretinoin, adapalene, tazarotene)
    • Salicylic acid
    • Urea
    Take care to use a keratolytic exactly as described in the directions. Applying too much or using it more often than indicated can cause raw, irritated skin.

    Even when you follow the directions, your skin can become too dry or irritated. If this happens, stop using the product for a few days.

  3. Slather on moisturizer. Using a keratolyic dries the skin, so you’ll want to apply a moisturizer afterwards. Dermatologists recommend using an oil-free cream or ointment to help prevent clogged pores.

    You want to apply the moisturizer:

    • After bathing
    • When your skin feels dry, and at least 2 or 3 times a day

Keratosis pilaris can be stubborn. If it remains despite home treatment, seeing a dermatologist can help.

Because you cannot cure keratosis pilaris, you’ll need to follow a maintenance plan. This often involves treating your skin a few times a week.

You’ll also need to take some precautions to prevent flare-ups. The following tips can help.

Tips to prevent flare-ups

Moisturize your skin: Keratosis pilaris often flares when the skin becomes dry. Applying a moisturizer can prevent dry skin.

For best results when using a moisturizer:

  • Select a thick oil-free cream or ointment rather than a lotion
  • Use a moisturizer that contains urea or lactic acid
  • Apply it to damp skin within 5 minutes of bathing
  • Slather it on when your skin feels dry

Rethink hair removal: Shaving or waxing skin with keratosis pilaris can cause more bumps. Laser hair removal can remove the hair without causing a flare-up.

Take short showers and baths: To prevent drying your skin, take a short (20 minutes or less) bath or shower and use warm rather than hot water. Also, limit bathing to once a day.

Use a mild cleanser: Bar soap can dry your skin.

Skip the self-tanner: These tend to make the bumps more obvious rather than hide them.

Plug in a humidifier when the air feels dry: This can help prevent dry skin.

Alai AN. “Keratosis pilaris surgical care.” Medscape. Last updated June 19, 2014.

Last updated: 6/23/21