Keratosis pilaris

What is keratosis pilaris?
Small, rough, red bumps on the arms, thighs, cheeks and back

What causes it?
Plugging of hair follicles with keratin, a skin protein

How can I treat it?
Gentle cleanser
Moisturise regularly
Alpha and beta hydroxy acids
Topical retinoids

Keratosis pilaris, also known as ‘chicken skin’, is a really common condition, affecting more than half of us at some point. It tends to improve with age, and while it’s very hard to clear completely, there are some things that can improve its appearance. 

What is keratosis pilaris?

Keratosis pilaris is a common condition characterised by hair follicles that are plugged with keratin, a skin protein. It usually presents as rough red bumps on the upper arms and thighs, but can also affect the cheeks and back. It’s very common in adolescents, affecting 50-80% of teenagers, but can affect children and adults too. 

Why do I have keratosis pilaris? 

There’s often a genetic tendency towards developing keratosis pilaris, and it’s more common in those with a tendency towards eczema. It tends to be more prominent in winter.  

How can I treat keratosis pilaris?

Treatment of keratosis pilaris can be difficult, and there is no cure. It tends to improve with age. Measures that can improve the appearance include using a gentle cleanser, moisturising regularly, and using products containing urea, chemical exfoliants such as alpha and beta hydroxy acids and retinoids. Intense pulsed light or laser may improve the redness but results are variable, and laser hair removal may improve the condition in some cases.

Maghfour J, Ly S, Haidari W, Taylor SL, Feldman SR. Treatment of keratosis pilaris and its variants: a systematic review. J Dermatolog Treat. 2020 Sep 14:1-12. 

Wang JF, Orlow SJ. Keratosis Pilaris and its Subtypes: Associations, New Molecular and Pharmacologic Etiologies, and Therapeutic Options. Am J Clin Dermatol. 2018 Oct;19(5):733-757.




Spotlight on Skin was created by award-winning Melbourne-based dermatologist, Dr Julia Rhodes.

Julia knows first-hand how overwhelming the skincare world can be, and that’s with over 10 years of experience practicing dermatology. Given that even she gets overwhelmed, she appreciates how hard it can be for those of you without a scientific background to make sense of all the information available, and choose products that are right for your skin…