How to Soothe Your Keratosis Pilaris at Home

How to Soothe Your Keratosis Pilaris at Home

Get rid of those dry, rough "strawberry skin" bumps without a trip to the dermatologist.


4 minute read

Do you have small, rough bumps on your thighs, arms, cheeks or butt that you just can’t seem to get rid of? Many people don’t realize that these bumps are a sign of a skin condition called keratosis pilaris. Commonly called strawberry skin or chicken skin, KP is marked by a buildup of excess keratin protein within the pores, which creates a hard “plug” and those signature rough bumps (learn more about it here, and here).

According to dermatologist and SLMD Skincare founder Sandra Lee, MD (aka Dr. Pimple Popper), KP is actually quite common — and fortunately, simple to treat on your own. While it’s always a good idea to seek out your doctor’s opinion, Dr. Lee has some skincare suggestions for soothing your keratosis pilaris at home.

#1 Wash your skin the right way

When washing your KP-affected skin, make sure you’re doing it right. For starters, stay away from hot water. Instead, use lukewarm water, which will unclog your pores without stripping your skin of all those moisturizing oils it naturally produces. Also, avoid harsh ingredients that can irritate skin. That includes alcohols, comedogenic products that block pores, and anything that will spur excess oil production.

And lastly, but just as importantly, take your time when you’re bathing. Using your fingertips, gently massage your skin with circular motions. Once you’re done, make sure you rinse off really well so there’s no leftover body wash or any oily debris. Pat your skin dry with a soft towel. Do this at least once a day — more if you sweat.

#2 Exfoliate genty and often

Because keratosis pilaris is characterized by excess keratin, sloughing it away — along with dead skin cells — is essential for treatment. Dr. Lee recommends a combination of physical and chemical exfoliants for the job. Look for finely-ground particles (like pumice, clay or powdered bamboo) mixed with alpha hydroxy acids (like glycolic or lactic).

It’s important to not intensely scrub your skin because you could damage your skin barrier (including creating micro tears) that will probably make KP worse. If your skin is sensitive, start slowly and work up in frequency as tolerated/needed).

Try: SLMD Glycolic Acid Body Scrub, a physical and chemical exfoliating scrub formulated with soothing aloe and hydrating glycerin.

#3 Hydrate and moisturize daily

Yes, those two are different! Hydrating brings water into your skin, moisturizing locks in all that hydration so it stays sealed in your skin. While both are essential for everyone, this step is even more important for people with KP. That’s because people with dry skin are more likely to develop strawberry skin — and dry skin tends to make the condition worse, though researchers aren’t sure why. This is why keratosis pilaris often clears in the summer and worsens in the winter.

The right moisturizers create a barrier between your skin and the air to seal in water and rehydrate the top layer of skin. They can also help alleviate itching or dryness. Dr. Lee suggests products that contain hydrating ingredients as well as chemical exfoliants. Regardless of which moisturizer you choose, make sure you apply it right after you shower to seal in the max amount of moisture, and massage some into your skin at least once, if not several times, a day.

Try: SLMD Glycolic Acid Body Lotion, an exfoliating moisturizer formulated with aloe and niacinamide to support a healthy skin barrier.

#4 Pick the right ingredients

Dr. Lee’s favorite ingredients for treating strawberry skin are alpha hydroxy acids. These water-soluble chemical exfoliants penetrate into the skin and soften keratin protein.

  • Glycolic acid. The smallest of the AHAs, glycolic acid is considered the most effective at breaking up rough, dry skin cells, boosting hydration, stimulating collagen, and evening out skin tone.
  • Lactic acid. This AHA softens keratin, boosts hydration, stimulates the production of soothing ceramides, and reduces inflammation to improve skin texture, firmness, and smoothness.
  • Salicylic acid. A BHA (beta hydroxy acid) that softens and sloughs the top layer of skin cells and is excellent for deep cleaning and exfoliation.
  • Retinol. A vitamin A derivative that helps support healthy cell turnover, which helps keep pores free of buildup. It also reduces inflammation and helps improve the overall look of skin’s texture and tone.
  • Niacinamide. This B vitamin helps to strengthen the skin barrier and repair signs of past damage. Also improves skin elasticity and reduces inflammation.
  • Aloe. This naturally-derived soothing ingredient reduces inflammation, soothes and hydrates skin without clogging pores.

Try: SLMD Body Smoothing System is a scrub + lotion combo that softens and removes excess keratin, then seals in hydration and moisture. Manages more than just strawberry skin — ideal for overall smoothing/brightening, non-inflammatory acne and ingrown hairs as well.

#5 Watch what you eat

While you may have seen keratosis pilaris “diets” on social media, Dr. Lee points out that there isn’t much scientific evidence to link particular foods to cases of KP. That being said, some people do notice a reduction in their symptoms when they add certain nutrients (like omega-3s and vitamin A) or avoid certain foods (like gluten or dairy). Experimenting with what you eat might prove worthwhile, as long as it’s OK with your doctor.

What has been definitively shown is that your risk of developing keratosis pilaris increases in relation to your BMI. This may have something to do with the fact that obese people have drier skin in general — but more research is needed here. Dr. Lee emphasizes that eating a healthy diet will help maximize your overall skin health.

Dr Sandra Lee

Dr. Lee's Last Word

While there’s no cure for keratosis pilaris, my patients are always so happy to hear that there are easy ways to manage it without a prescription. My biggest piece of advice is to find an effective exfoliating and moisturizing regimen — like my SLMD Body Smoothing System.


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