Understanding & Treating Keratosis Pilaris

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Picture this: It’s finally spring. You’re excited to wear a new tank top, but grab a sweater too because you’re embarrassed of small bumps covering your arms. Or maybe you’re like me and spent most of last summer wearing long-sleeved shirts to hide the unsightly bumps on your skin.

If this sounds familiar, you might be struggling with a condition known as keratosis pilaris (KP).

What is Keratosis Pilaris?

The good news is that you aren’t alone if you have KP. Despite what the internet might lead us to believe, no one has perfect skin. KP is different from acne. It is a very common condition resulting from a buildup of keratin in hair follicles. Keratin is a hard protein which normally works to protect skin from harmful substances and infection. With KP, keratin forms a plug which blocks the opening of hair follicles, resulting in small bumps. As a result, it is sometimes referred to as “chicken skin.” KP is most common on upper arms, legs, and butt. Although the bumps are harmless, KP can cause psychological distress and make people hyperaware and/or self-conscious of their skin.

There are two major factors which contribute to the severity of KP: dry skin and keratin production.

The drier your skin is, the worse KP tends to be. It’s common for KP to get worse as humidity falls during winter months.

Factors influencing keratin production are less straightforward, and researchers aren’t exactly sure what causes the buildup of keratin in KP. It seems genetics may play a role, as KP tends to run in families. Other factors can contribute to the severity of KP, including pregnancy, diabetes, and obesity.

My Struggle with KP

I first started dealing with KP in April 2020 when I finished Accutane. I’ve always struggled with body acne, so I didn’t realize at first that I was dealing with KP. Because of COVID, I couldn’t get in to see my dermatologist. It was actually thanks to Curology I was able to identify my KP and find a treatment regimen that worked for me. I mainly deal with KP on my arms, although I’ve been getting it more on my legs and butt too now that my skin is drier in the winter.

This picture was taken in June 2020, about 2 months after I first started dealing with KP. For most people, KP will never look this severe or inflamed. My skin got to this point as a result of excoriation disorder (aka “skin picking disorder”). I plan on going into more detail about this in a different blog post- in summary, skin picking disorder belongs to a group of conditions called “Body-focused repetitive behaviors” (BFRB) which involves becoming fixated on real or perceived imperfections on my skin. This often results in compulsive picking, scratching, and popping to the point of bleeding. This frequently causes infections, inflammation, and permanent scars (like you can see in this picture). For me, managing my KP has also required management of my excoriation disorder (but that’s a subject for a different post).

How to treat KP at Home

There is no way to cure KP. As with most skin conditions, there are a variety of effective treatments which are available though dermatologists and healthcare providers, including lasers and topical prescriptions like retinoids. However, there are also a number of products you can use at home to help reduce the appearance and severity of KP.

Most products designed to treat KP help exfoliate, hydrate the skin, or both. These are the products I currently use to manage my KP at home.

Products I use

Personally, I’ve had a lot of success treating KP at home. I use a combination of products to help (gently) exfoliate and keep my skin hydrated.

One of my skincare staples is CeraVe Moisturizing cream. I’ve seen this product recommended by basically every dermatologist- it is dye and fragrance free, doesn’t clog pores, and it works. I apply this to my entire body whenever I get out of the shower. It uses hyaluronic acid and ceramides, which work together to help skin retain moisture.

Without getting too technical: hyaluronic acid plays an important role in many areas of our bodies, including our skin. In the skin, hyaluronic acid binds to water, which helps the skin stay hydrated and regulate water balance. Overall, hyaluronic acid is extremely important for our skin structure, physiology, tissue repair, and a lot of other things. By contrast, ceramides are lipids (fats) that make up a significant amount of our skin barrier. In other words, they help hold skin cells together and play an important role in moisture retention. Products which use both hyaluronic acid and ceramides (like the CeraVe cream) don’t just moisturize your skin, they help your skin retain that moisture better.

Another product I rely heavily on is 2% salicylic acid body wash. Salicylic acid is an ingredient which can treat a wide variety of skin conditions, including KP. Generally, salicylic acid makes it easier to shed dead skin cells in the epidermis (the outermost layer of our skin), which can help prevent the clogging of pores. Currently, I use Curology’s acne body wash (with 2% salicylic acid). Another alternative is Neutrogena’s Body Clear Acne Body Wash (also with 2% salicylic acid; $5.94). I try and avoid the versions with exfoliating beads, since they can create micro abrasions that irritate your skin. Tip: for both body acne and KP, I’ve gotten better results by massaging and allowing the cleansers to sit on my skin for 30 to 60 seconds before rinsing off.

The product that really made a difference in my struggle with KP was Amlactin Daily moisturizing body lotion ($12.97). Amlactin uses 12% lactic acid, which is a type of alpha-hydroxy acid (AHA). Like salicylic acid, AHA’s promote exfoliation (shedding of surface skin). I apply this lotion to my upper arms, shoulders, and chest twice a day almost every day, and the results speak for themselves. More recently, I’ve been trying out First Aid Beauty KP Body Eraser Body Scrub (with 10% AHA; $10). This product is more abrasive, so I only use it a couple of times a week. I haven’t been using this long enough to really know how much of a difference it is making.

My results treating KP at home using Amlactin lotion.

Final Thoughts

Keep in mind: products used to treat KP like salicylic acid and AHAs can increase sensitivity to UV rays. If you use these products, make sure to use sunscreen or wear protective clothing whenever you are spending time outside.

Although KP is technically harmless, I know firsthand the toll it can take on your self-image and confidence. If your skin isn’t responding to at-home treatments, it may be time to see a dermatologist.

Featured

35+ Gift Ideas for your Favorite Science Nerd

I get commissions for purchases made through Amazon affiliate links in this post.

With the holidays rapidly approaching, many of us are likely asking ourselves what we plan to gift our loved ones. Whether they’re treats for yourself or gifts for other people, these are some of my favorite science-related gifts. Most of these gift ideas are targeted for adults- let me know if you would like a dedicated list for kids!

Charty Party ($24.99). I recently discovered this game and I am OBSESSED with it. It’s basically cards against humanity, but with graphs. I promise it’s a lot more fun than it sounds.

Cognitive surplus Whiskey chemistry rocks glass set ($29.95) They also have a similar “beer chemistry” pint glass set ($29.95)

Cognitive surplus graphic tees ($24.95) This is just one of the many field-specific science t-shirts made by Cognitive Surplus. I got the green bird graphic tee for my husband a few years ago and he loves it. They run a little small- I would order a size up unless you’re looking for a fitted t-shirt.

Cognitive surplus “the hypothesis” hardcover notebook ($19.95). If you can’t tell by now, I *love* this company. They have so many different disciplines to choose from- I currently use their “Bee hardcover dot grid” notebook as my bullet journal.

Cognitive surplus also makes tote bags in many of the same fields as their t-shirts and notebooks, including a Great Women of Science tote bag ($19.95)

Periodic Tablewear Laboratory Shot Glasses ($19.98). I got these for a gift exchange last year and they were definitely a hit amongst my fellow scientist friends.

Dinosaur skeleton necklace ($7.99) This necklace is definitely a statement. Not a fan of silver? It comes in 4 colors!

For a more subtle piece of science jewelry, consider this Rose gold Serotonin molecule necklace ($20.99), which also comes in silver.

Oh Chemistree Periodic Table Longsleeved shirt ($17.95) is great for someone who likes to be both festive and rep their love of chemistry during the holiday season.

If you know someone who is into gardening or geeks out about native pollinators, consider getting them a Crown Bees bee house kit (prices vary). I will definitely have a post in the future about bee houses. Long story short, not all bee houses are created equal, and Crown Bees is a company that makes very well designed ones. These are not for keeping honeybees- they are designed for local, solitary bees. These bees (such as mason and leafcutter bees) are extremely important pollinator species. Kits come both with bee cocoons or without them (so you can attract the local bees in your area).

For someone who enjoys looking at the small things in life, consider this wireless digital microscope ($41.99). This is also a good option for any especially inquisitive kids you know.

Any math teachers, mathematicians, or math appreciators in your life may appreciate this clock ($24.95).

For your friend who appreciates some good periodic table mugs, consider one of these Periodically mugs ($18.00)

Alternatively, this “A woman’s place is in the lab” campfire mug ($22.99) makes a great gift for your favorite woman in STEM.

For someone who likes a good science-themed fashion statement, this science infinity scarf ($19.99) is a good option.

Similarly, any chemist you know that appreciates ties will probably enjoy this chemistry equations tie ($18.95)

I can guarantee that these hexagonal graph paper ($10.99) and organic chemistry stencil ($11.99) will definitely be appreciated by anyone you know who is taking organic chemistry, biochemistry, or is otherwise an organic chemist. (I know I wish I had these when I took O chem)

I don’t know about you, but this Solar system necklace ($58.00) definitely exudes Ms. Frizzle to me.

For your doctor, nurse, or loved one who otherwise loves anatomy, consider one of these wooden anatomy Christmas Ornaments ($24.00)

For someone who needs some science-themed art in their home or office, consider these vintage science chemistry patent poster prints ($16.99).

If you know an aerospace engineer, they might like this “principles of flight” tie ($28.00)

This Erlenmeyer mug ($15.99) is a solid staple for any scientist.

This science sticker pack ($6.99) is perfect for decorating water bottles, laptops, notebooks, and more!

Waterlust tiger shark leggings ($69)- these leggings are UPF 50+ and proceeds help support the Shark Research and Conservation Program at the University of Miami. How cool is that?

This book helps celebrate the often underappreciated contributions of 50 women in science ($14.47). Written for ages 10 and up.

You can’t go wrong with this soy-based beaker candle set ($24.00). There are 14 different scents to choose from!

This plush glow-in-the-dark constellation blanket ($29.99) is perfect for anyone you know wo loves being comfy but also gets excited about space.

For your friend who is also into plants, consider this air plant beaker terrarium set ($32.00). Not gonna lie, y’all- I really want this for myself.

Help your loved one show off their love of science with this science face mask ($10.99)

For the computer programmer in your life, consider one of these circuit board ties ($40.00+).

If you know a scientist, I can promise you they can relate to this “Y’all need science” mug ($21.55) this year.

You can’t really go wrong with this set of 5 pair of men’s science dress socks ($22.99)

Science lab socks ($9.00)- perfect for someone who also appreciates puns.

For kids

I hope to expand on this section in the future, but here are a few ideas for the young science enthusiasts in your life:

Cognitive surplus is back at it again with an array of youth-sized science shirts ($21.95)

Little patient anatomy plush toy ($55.00) is a fun way to familiarize kids with human anatomy.

I’ve always loved these GIANT microbes plush toys ($20.95), which show what many bacteria and viruses would look like if you supersized them, then made them adorable and fuzzy.

Entomologist Barbie Doll ($29.99) In collaboration with National Geographic, Mattel has recently produced an amazing line of science-themed Barbies, including a marine biologist ($14.45), astrophysicist ($13.10), robotics engineer ($24.99), wildlife conservationist ($15.99), and wildlife photographer ($14.99).

This kid’s beginner microscope kit ($54.99) is great for helping encourage curiosity. My brother and I definitely had a microscope kit like this as kids and I thought it was *the coolest thing*

Help encourage the kids in your life to feel more like a scientist with this science experiment and lab coat dress up set ($18.99)

Get to Know Me

Who exactly am I, and what makes me qualified to talk about science?

My name is Rachel Alenius-Thalhuber. My maiden name (Alenius) is pronounced like the word “miscellaneous”- hence the name of the blog. I am a 26-year old woman living in Fort Worth, Texas and working on her Ph.D. in biology. I study the reintroduction and conservation of Texas horned lizards, but I’ve dabbled in a lot of different scientific fields. My background spans a pretty wide field of computer programming, genetics, chemistry, math, physics- it’s a lot.

That being said, I plan to use this blog to explore the science of a wide variety of topics, including:

  • How to care for orchids (based on their ecology)
  • My holy grail skincare products and the science behind them
  • I have ADHD. What does that mean?
  • Why science says you should walk more
  • How to make naturally carbonated soda using the science of fermentation
  • What you need to know about antibacterial products
  • And so, so much more.

Like life in general, I’m not sure where this blog will take me, but I hope you’ll join me for the ride!