When I was a teenager I was always plagued with those annoying red bumps on the backs of my arms. No matter what I did, nothing seemed to help! As I’ve aged the problem has largely disappeared, but lately I’ve noticed the same bumps on my teenage sons arms. That’s because, as I recently discovered, the root cause of this condition (known as Keratosis Pilaris) is genetics, and it tends to be more common in children and adolescents. However, KP also affects adults, too. Up to 50 percent of the population are inherently programmed to overproduce keratin. Keratin, a protein in the skin, builds up and forms hard plugs within the hair follicles causing what looks like mild acne.
Dryness tends to make KP worse, which is why you’ll notice it more in the summer, when sun and salt water dehydrate skin, and in the winter, when humidity is low. The condition can also flare up when hormones fluctuate – like during pregnancy or your period.
While KP may not be curable, it is medically harmless. Nevertheless, KP is very annoying (trust me on this!) so I have put together some strategies to help smooth away the bumps.
What DOESN’T Work:
Rub all you want, but you’ll only end up with bumps that are now irritated and red. The problem is not the top surface of skin, but the building up of cells underneath the surface.
Now, we all know you’re not supposed to pick skin, but some people think that picking these non-acne bumps is harmless. Not so! Picking can lead to unsightly scarring that’s far worse than the bump you started out with, so resist the urge.
1. Gentle cleansing
Keep bathwater lukewarm, and limit exposure to 10 minutes or less. Avoid soaps with harsh lathering agents such as sodium lauryl sulfate. Stick to gentle cleansers that contain soothing ingredients like aloe vera.
2. Exfoliate the right way
Scrubbing rarely smooths bumps and often exacerbates redness. Instead, apply a cream with a chemical exfoliant, such as an alpha hydroxy acid (AHA), at least once a day. Acne body washes containing AHA also help to exfoliate the abnormally accumulated keratin.
3. Moisturize, moisturize, moisturize
To instantly make bumps look and feel better, use a deeply hydrating moisturizer. Apply on rough spots right after bathing when skin is still damp to seal the moisture in. This will definitely help soften the feel and look of bumps, though keep in mind that it won’t help prevent the condition from forming if you’re genetically prone.
Using a home humidifier when the humidity is low can help prevent KP from getting worse in the winter.
5. Vitamin A
Vitamin A contains retinol which promotes cell turnover and prevents the plugging of the hair follicles.
Break open a Vitamin A capsule, squeeze the oil from it, and apply it on the skin directly. Massage it gently for few minutes and then leave it on for 15 – 20 minutes. Repeat the process regularly.
Over-the-counter retinols (up to 1%) are another option. A tiny dab every other night is more than adequate.
6. Apple cider vinegar
The malic and lactic acids in the vinegar soften skin by naturally exfoliating it and also help to balance the pH of the skin. To use, create a solution of one part apple cider vinegar and two parts water. Place into a spray bottle and spritz onto the skin prior to showering. Leave on for 10-15 minutes and then rinse.
7. Essential oil
8. Coconut oil
The lauric acid found in coconut oil is an antibacterial agent that helps to reduce inflammation and improve the skin’s texture. Apply a dime-sized amount onto the affected area daily.
While sunscreen won’t prevent the condition from forming, it can make a significant difference in preventing bumps from worsening and looking more obvious. The sun’s damaging rays are known to aggravate keratosis pilaris. Wear sunscreen of at least SPF 30 every day to encourage smoother skin.
Take some sunshine everyday (while wearing sunscreen.) This helps in the synthesis of Vitamin D which helps the skin shed off excess keratin.
Remember, these bumps are extremely common, so no need to feel self-conscious about them. By incorporating these simple treatments, you will feel more confident putting on that tank top or sleeveless dress. :-)