Everything you need to know about Keratosis Pilaris: the red, irritating bumps on the backs of your arms and legs.

Ever wondered what the red and flaky bumps are that occur on the backs of your arms, trunks or thighs? Keratosis Pilaris (KP) is a common skin condition that typically presents with skin cells plugging the follicle opening (where the hair protrudes), causing papules with varying degree of redness. KP occurs in a regional distribution on the lateral aspects of the arms, lesions can also be found on the buttocks, trunk and face. There are atypical and clinical variants of KP. Typical forms of KP are often asymptomatic (without symptoms), however, some individuals experience fluctuating itch. Published literature report that Keratosis Pilaris occurs in the first and second decade of life. Keratosis pilaris is usually self limiting (heals without intervention), but the redness can cause a level of disfigurement which may lead the individual to seek treatment.

The cause of keratosis pilaris is believed to be a combination of:

  • Genetic disposition
  • Environmental factors as some individuals report an improvement of symptoms in the warmer months
  • Single or multiple vellus hairs that are coiled and can not push through to the surface
  • A mutation to the local sebocytes (cells that contribute to oil flow) with reduced sebum being produced in the area of keratosis pilaris
  • A possible link to auto immune dysfunction

Under the microscope keratosis pilaris shows:

  • Over proliferation of skin cells at the opening of the hair follicle
  • A mild inflammatory response
  • Hardening of tissue
  • Increased transepidermal water loss
  • An absence of sebaceous activity (oil flow)
 An annoying and sometimes disfiguring skin condition.

An annoying and sometimes disfiguring skin condition.

There are several subtypes of keratosis pilaris which are less common and more progressive (Further reading can be found in the references). Some of the symptoms for the variants of keratosis pilaris include:

  • Deep scarring with a honeycomb appearance
  • Alopecia of the scalp and eyebrows
  • Persistent erythema (redness) and vascular abnormalities (dilated capillaries)
  • Dilated lymph vessels

However, these variants are rare and will require further testing and medical intervention. For the case of common keratosis pilaris there are several goals of treatment....

What are the goals of the treatment?

The main goals of treatment for keratosis pilaris is to exfoliate, unplugging follicles will allow for the hair follicle to grow out, and to hydrate the skin to reduce inflammation. There are multiple ways to tackle keratosis pilaris, keeping in mind that a combination of therapies will treat the different contributing factors. Regular and consistent treatments are recommended for best results.

Treatment options:

  • Laser hair removal is suitable if the hair is dark in colour as a reduction of hair in the area will prevent hairs becoming trapped in the follicle.
  • Microdermabrasion is a form of manual exfoliation that will aid in unplugging blocked follicle
  • Body brushing can be performed at home as a manual exfoliation to aid in unplugging the follicle
  • Chemical peels such as lactic acid will exfoliate dead skin, hydrate the skin and reduce bacteria
  • Topical retinoids will aid in regulation of the cell turnover
  • Hydrating moisturisers will help to improve skin texture and prevent water loss which will allow for a regulated cell turnover.

To find out the best treatment options for you contact your local Dermal Clinician or contact us for further advise.

If you have had success treating or being treated for keratosis pilaris with a method that is not mentioned above, we would love to hear about it!

Marnina Diprose holds a Bachelor Health Science in Dermal Therapies, and a Vocational Certificate of Laser and Light. Marnina has a strong passion in scar revision and holistic approaches to patient care. For media inquiries or if you have an interest in blog contribution please email info@arozedermaltherapies.com.au


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