With the arrival of summer weather comes the transition to t-shirts, tank tops, shorts, and other wardrobe choices that reveal our bare skin. As we shed those layers, some people may notice that the drier winter months have left their skin with gooseflesh-like bumps that vary in degrees of redness and inflammation. This is a condition known as keratosis pilaris.
For many, keratosis pilaris is most prevalent on the upper arms, but it can appear anywhere on the body that has hair follicles: the thighs, face, back, chest, and buttocks.
The condition is common, with an estimated 50 to 80 percent of teenagers and 40 percent of adults developing it at some point. Research shows that there may be a genetic component, as some individuals are more likely to experience keratosis pilaris if someone in their family also has it. Yet there are other factors that can set the stage, including having fair skin, asthma, diabetes, or hypothyroidism, or being obese.
Often mistaken for small pimples, the keratosis pilaris bumps are actually a different type of skin congestion, says Kristen Shoemaker, an elite esthetician at LifeSpa in Bridgewater, N.J. “Keratosis pilaris happens when the skin produces too much of a protein called keratin, which can build up and then block hair follicles, causing rough patches or small bumps on the skin.”
She points out that keratosis pilaris typically appears worse on dry skin, so the drier the environment, the more developed keratosis pilaris can become.
As an esthetician, Shoemaker is trained to help her clients combat keratosis pilaris, but she can also relate to them as she’s experienced keratosis pilaris since her teenage years. “I know how it feels when people ask, ‘What’s wrong with your arms?’” she says. “As I’ve gotten older — I’m 37 now — I’ve learned to accept and love the keratosis pilaris I have on my upper arms. It has faded so much now, but in my teens and mid-to-late 20s, it was red and noticeable.”
Shoemaker notes that there’s no single reason keratosis pilaris develops or a timeline for how long it lasts. However, it does often surface in babies, children, and teens, and it can lessen or disappear when a person reaches their 30s. Hormone changes in teenagers can also bring on or heighten signs and symptoms of keratosis pilaris.
How to Treat Keratosis Pilaris
Shoemaker began her own skincare routine dedicated to addressing her keratosis pilaris prior to her wedding. She now passes on this same routine to her clients.
“At-home care partnered with a HydraArm facial can be powerful for reducing and eliminating keratosis pilaris,” Shoemaker says. A HydraArm facial can be done at all LifeSpa locations that offer Hydrafacials. The service resurfaces the skin of the arms by use of lactic, glycolic, and salicylic acids. Extractions are then done painlessly with the Hydrafacial Syndeo™ machine. Lastly, the skin is nourished with antioxidants and finished with a moisturizer. Shoemaker suggests this treatment being done monthly for the best results.
For your at-home routine — which can apply to keratosis pilaris found anywhere on the body — Shoemaker advises completing these three key skincare steps:
Use a physical exfoliant twice a week to remove surface dead skin build-up. One of Shoemaker’s favorite physical exfoliants is the Strawberry Rhubarb Dermafoliant from Eminence, which contains lactic acid, a chemical exfoliant. Use this in the shower, rubbing gently over the areas with keratosis pilaris. The combination of these two types of exfoliants leaves the skin smooth and ready for hydration.
If your keratosis pilaris is on your face, Shoemaker stresses to not use a physical exfoliant and to use only topical exfoliating acids. “Physical exfoliants can be too harsh on the surface of the skin on your face and can create micro-tears that can lead to bacteria build up,” Shoemaker says.
After showering, apply a topical chemical exfoliation serum daily. For this, Shoemaker likes the Mangosteen Resurfacing Concentrate (also from Eminence). This keeps the exfoliation process going throughout the day or night, helping to prevent keratin from building up on the skin.
Next, apply a moisturizer daily. Shoemaker prefers the Eminence Yuzu Body Oil or the Antara Balance Body Oil. Keratosis pilaris builds up in dry skin, so keeping the area hydrated is a key factor in getting rid of and diminishing the signs of it. “Throughout the treatment, it’s important to wear clothes that are loose and breathable,” says Shoemaker. “The less friction on the skin the better.”
It’s important to remain vigilant to your skin-care routine to both help heal the skin and keep keratosis pilaris at bay. “Keratosis pilaris is something that needs care every day,” says Shoemaker. “If you stop the treatments and home care, it can return. The topical exfoliants and moisturizer are going to be an everyday routine.”
Shoemaker also emphasizes that it’s helpful to try and remember that many people have this condition — and if you’re one of them, you’re not alone. “I know how self-conscious people can get when it comes to keratosis pilaris, so I approach my work with clients with love and compassion,” she says. “I make sure they can see the keratosis pilaris on my arms, so they know I really do understand what they’re going through.”