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Is Your Skin Chicken?

By Krista Elliott

With warm weather comes the traditional shedding of layers, and the donning of short-sleeve shirts, sleeveless, or tank tops. It's refreshing to be able to let your arms feel the summer breezes. If you have little bumps all over the backs of your arms, however, you may be wondering what they are and what to do about them.

Odds are, the little bumps are a skin condition called keratosis pilaris. 

What is Keratosis Pilaris?

Keratosis pilaris (colloquially called "chicken skin") is a skin condition caused by a buildup of keratin, the same substance that makes up your hair and your nails. The keratin forms a small plug, blocking the hair follicle and creating bumpy, dry skin. This condition is completely harmless, so if its appearance doesn't bother you, there's no need to do anything about it. 

However, if you'd like to treat it, there are a few options available. As tempting as it may be to scratch the bumps, pick at them, or exfoliate them with a loofah or grainy scrub, don't. You risk scarring, and may make the appearance of the bumps worse by irritating the skin. 

Instead, use lotions or treatments that provide gentle chemical exfoliation. Three options are alpha hydroxy acids (AHA), lactic acid, or beta hydroxy acid (BHA). 

  • AHAs are acids primarily derived from foods. Citric acid, found in citrus fruit, is commonly used as an acidifier and a flavoring agent. Glycolic acid, found in sugarcane, is a popular ingredient in many anti-aging skin care products. 
  • Lactic acid is a specific type of AHA, which is found in milk. It also has exfoliant properties, and is often found in speciality lotions and creams for dry skin. 
  • BHAs are also known as salicylic acid, which is a very close cousin to a common painkiller, aspirin. Salicylic acid is a common ingredient in acne treatments and cleansers due to its ability to exfoliate while also acting as an anti-inflammatory. With its added ability to exfoliate down into the lining of the skin pore, BHA has become the gold standard for treating keratosis pilaris. 

No matter which treatment option you choose, consistency is key. There's no cure for keratosis pilaris, so in order to keep bumps at bay, treatment has to be regular and ongoing. And don't forget sunblock, as the inflammation caused by sun damage only makes the condition worse. 

Keratosis pilaris can be a nuisance, but thankfully, it's a harmless one. So treat it if you wish, but don't let it ruin your summer fun. 

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