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Learn all about Keratosis Pilaris

Learn all about Keratosis Pilaris

what is keratosis pilaris?

Keratosis pilaris is a super common skin condition, and it’s not as complicated as it sounds. KP (for short) is pretty harmless, but it affects tons of people around the world. Babies, kids, teens, adults… everyone. Statistics say young kids and teens are the most likely to get KP, but 30% to 50% of people in the U.S. have keratosis pilaris somewhere on their bodies. More common than you realized, huh?

So, what’s the main sign you’ve got KP? Small, rough bumps on the surface of your skin. Usually, they show up on people’s arms and legs, but KP can also appear on your face and torso. For some, the bumps are the same color as their skin. For others, KP is red, itchy, and inflamed. If someone’s talking about a “chicken skin” condition, they’re probably talking about KP… that’s its common nickname.

Yikes. Don’t freak. Keratosis pilaris is actually pretty simple to understand and treat once you break it down. Plus, it’s not contagious. Phew.

Here’s the nitty gritty: The protein that our skin makes to protect itself is called keratin. For some people, too much keratin builds up on the surface of their skin and their body can’t figure out how to get rid of it fast enough. When this keratin stays put, it clogs pores and creates hard, rough patches that feel like sandpaper. So really, KP is just extra keratin cells that have joined together to create these tough, irritated patches on the skin’s surface.

types of kp

Most people just talk about keratosis pilaris as KP. But technically speaking (and hey, we’re getting technical here), dermatologists classify keratosis pilaris into three different types. Here’s the low down on all three.

Keratosis Pilaris (KP) Keratosis Pilaris (KP)

keratosis pilaris (kp)

If someone has regular ol’ KP, they’ll have rough, bumpy patches of skin. Keratosis pilaris can, however, present in several different forms. For some people, their KP isn’t red or irritated, it’s just these white bumps. Or, more accurately, skin-colored bumps. For other people, KP is super red, itchy, and/or inflamed. It can appear in a few tiny patches or as huge sections of rough, dry, itchy skin. Some people describe it as sandpaper, others as chicken skin, and others as tiny red pimples.

Keratosis Pilaris Rubra (KPR)

keratosis pilaris rubra (kpr)

This is another type of KP and it’s those same, signature rough bumps. They feel like sandpaper to touch, and, most importantly, they’re red and inflamed. Often, these bumps can be itchy and uncomfortable. If all of this sounds like regular KP, you’re right. What makes KPR different is that the skin underneath all those bumps is also a bright, patchy red. KPR is most common in adolescent boys, who often see it on their cheeks.

Keratosis Pilaris Atrophicans

keratosis pilaris atrophicans

These are pretty rare, genetic skin disorders within the KP family. Most people really don’t have to deal with these types of KP, but we wanted to give you all the info anyways. So these bumps usually show up on the face, around the eyebrows especially, and they attack the hair follicles, which leaves bald patches. They’re pretty similar to those red, rough bumps of KPR. And again, if you’re reading this, you probably don’t have it. This one almost exclusively affects babies. It can get worse as they become toddlers and can even leave scars and marks on the face. The silver lining? The scars will stick around, but most kids outgrow the condition as they get older or hit puberty.

what causes kp?

Dermatologists don’t know exactly why we get keratosis pilaris. What we do know is that the condition usually appears in babies and toddlers or teenagers. All that said, plenty of adults get KP too.

Scientists also know there’s a pretty good chance genetics play a role. So if your parents, grandparents, siblings, aunts or uncles have those suspicious red or white bumps on their skin, you’re probably more likely to develop KP, too.

Another thing: got eczema or super dry skin? That’s a sign your body is more likely to have an extra buildup of dry, dead skin. And unfortunately, that leaves you vulnerable to KP too. People who have asthma, obesity, hay fever, or ichthyosis vulgaris (another skin condition that causes extra dry, flaky skin) are also at risk for KP.

how to treat kp?

We’ve got to tell it like it is: there’s no cure for keratosis pilaris. The good news is that KP is treatable and manageable, and there are actually tons of options. Here’s a breakdown.

the kp fighting


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what you need to know

Exfoliating = the simplest and most effective way to treat keratosis pilaris. These two exfoliating acids are excellent at deep-diving into cells and breaking up all the rough, dry skin cells clogging them up.


Here’s another ingredient that’s incredible at breaking down the extra skin developing from KP. A little note: it’s best used at night. So make sure to slather on the retinol right before you catch those Z’s.


While this over the counter ingredient won’t get rid of the signature KP bumps, it will help to treat the redness and inflammation that is a signature of KPR. Just keep in mind that hydrocortisone isn’t something you can use all the time. Save it for that special occasion when you want that redness gone, stat.


If at-home exfoliation doesn’t do the trick, a visit with an esthetician or a dermatologist for a microdermabrasion treatment could be a great option. Microderm is sort of like a sanding machine. It runs along the surface of your skin to break down any extra build up, creating a soft, smooth surface.

ipl therapy

Thanks to some recent studies, IPL (short for intense pulsed light) is now a proven way to treat KP. It’s like launching a targeted missile into your KP. A more scientific explanation? It’s a non-laser light that targets deep layers of your skin, destroying the built-up keratin.

laser treatments

There are several types of lasers (resurfacing lasers and fractional carbon dioxide lasers are two of them) that doctors and scientists have been able to prove treat the rough, bumpy skin of KP patients. These types of lasers target the hair follicle within your pore, which is (you guessed it) where all that extra keratin is hanging out.

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