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10 Ways To Get Rid Of Those Stubborn Bumps On The Back Of Your Arms

Keratosis Pilaris

What Are Those Small Pimples On My Arms?

When I was a teenager I was always plagued with those annoying red bumps on the backs of my arms. It looked like I had chicken skin! 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 tiny, pimple-like bumps on my teenage son’s 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.

What Is Keratosis Pilaris?

So what exactly is keratosis pilaris? Keratin, a protein in the skin, builds up and forms hard plugs within the hair follicles causing what looks like mild acne.

Who Gets Keratosis Pilaris?

Unfortunately, anyone can end up getting keratosis pilaris, even if you aren’t genetically inclined for it. Up to 50 percent of the population are inherently programmed to overproduce keratin, which leads to these small red bumps all over your body.

What Causes Keratosis Pilaris?

Besides genetics, 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.

But first…

What Won’t Get Rid Of Keratosis Pilaris

Scrubbing brushes won’t get rid of keratosis pilaris

Scrubbing

You can try and rub off those pimply bumps 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 your skin, but the building up of cells underneath the surface.

Picking

Now, we all know we’re not supposed to pick at acne or pop pimples, 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.

Now…

What Is The Treatment For Keratosis Pilaris?

Gentle cleansing to get rid of keratosis pilaris

Gentle Cleansing

Try cleansing your “chicken skin” to get the bumps to disappear. Keep bath water lukewarm, and limit exposure to 10 minutes or less. Avoid soaps with harsh lathering agents such as sodium lauryl sulfate. Purchase or better yet make your own gentle body wash that contain soothing ingredients like aloe vera.

Related: How to Make Coconut Milk Facial Cleanser for Healthy, Beautiful Skin

Exfoliation to treat bumps on arms

Exfoliate The Right Way

Scrubbing rarely smooths your 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.

Moisturizing to treat keratosis pilaris

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 pimple-like bumps, though keep in mind that it won’t help prevent the condition from forming if you’re genetically prone.

Related: This DIY Moisturizing Beauty Mash Will Solve All Your Skin Problems

Humidifying to treat keratosis pilaris

Humidify

Using a home humidifier when the humidity is low can help prevent keratosis pilaris bumps from getting worse in the winter.

Vitamin A capsules to get rid of red bumps

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 on the bumps on your legs or arms is more than adequate.

Apple cider vinegar to remove keratosis pilaris

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 on to your skin bumps prior to showering. Leave on for 10-15 minutes and then rinse.

Related: Check Out These Surprising Benefits of Apple Cider Vinegar (with Mother)

Essential Oils

Put 2 drops of Tea Tree essential oil in 10 drops of fractionated coconut oil and massage onto affected skin. Tea Tree cleanses and purifies skin and helps promote a clear, healthy complexion.

Getting rid of keratosis pilaris with coconut oil

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 areas of your skin that are red and bumpy daily.

Using sunscreen to treat keratosis pilaris

Sunscreen

While sunscreen won’t prevent the condition from forming, it can make a significant difference in preventing red 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.

Related: How to Make a Safe & Effective Sunscreen at Home

Sunshine can help heal red arm bumps

Sunshine

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 red, pimple looking 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!

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Jill Nystul (aka Jillee)

Jill Nystul is an accomplished writer and author who founded the blog One Good Thing by Jillee in 2011. With over 30 years of experience in homemaking, she has become a trusted resource for contemporary homemakers by offering practical solutions to everyday household challenges.
I share creative homemaking and lifestyle solutions that make your life easier and more enjoyable!

About Jillee

Jill Nystul

Jill’s 30 years of homemaking experience, make her the trusted source for practical household solutions.

About Jillee

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Beauty Tips

  • I recommend cerave s.a. it’s brilliant for my kp on my arms and thighs and it both is good at getting rid of it AND keeping it at bay. It’s not expensive and a tub will last for ages. I really love it!

  • CeraVe Cream for rough and bumpy skin Does a great job At helping smooth Skin problems. Used once or twice a day It will Make a big difference

  • I also have kp on my arms, my sides and thighs. There is something you can try that is the most effective for my kp- it is cerave sa smoothing cream. It really works for me. You only need a bit because its quite thick and its really moisturising. I use it on my lips too, I have another keratin based condition there too and this is one of the very few creams that helps. It’s called exfoliative cheilitis where my lips get crusty and cracked and need to shed the skin in 48hr cycles. Its unsightly and sometimes painful. Anyways the cerave sa is brilliant for all kinds of stuff and is £10 for a tub (uk) and thats a bargain for a multi use product!

  • As a Functional Nutritional Therapy Practitioner, I can tell you this is due to a Vitamin A deficiency. Gluten, sugar, some Rx drugs, and many other things can cause vitamin and mineral deficiencies. The skin is our biggest organ for both detoxification and absorbing good/bad things.

  • Interesting. I never knew what those bumps were which I used to have. I generously passed them to my daughter and some of her children. Thanks for the tips. I’ll pass these on.

  • When I cut gluten out of my diet 13 years ago, I discovered by accident that my bumps went away! I had those irritating bumps since I was a child and was so happy to be rid of them! My daughter cut gluten out of her diet a couple of years ago and her bumps went away too. My son also has them over most of his body, but he refuses to cut out gluten :(

  • Honey and oat scrub mask is one of the best choice to get rid off these bumps as oat meal act as exfoliant and honey moisturizes your skin.

  • I read your article on the arm bumps and was planning to include comments about getting gluten out of your diet. I discovered I am Celiac. I had to get gluten out of my diet completely. To my delight the dry skin and arm rash as well as rash on my legs went away. Also many allergy symptoms, head aches,and many more negative symptoms dissappeared!! The rash may not be gluten induced for you, but I think it would be wise to try an elimination diet with some of the main food allergens. You may stumble on the true answer to the bumps and eliminate them forever. This works better than treating symptoms!

  • I decided to try a gluten free diet to see what happened. I did not think that I had much of a problem but was curious. Results? Acid reflux (officially diagnosed as GERD) disappeared! Headaches and post nasal drip almost gone. VAST improvement in my Keratosis Pilaris and dry skin, which has plagued me and embarrassed me simce I was a kid. Just sayin’ …. I think gluten (or perhaps wheat?) was a definite issue. When I don’t pay attentio to how much gluten I am getting, all those symptoms return! Gluten sensitivity or a sensitivity to wheat can prevent you from absorbing Vitamin A … which is why a supplement can effect an improvement of this condition. Avoid gluten, moisturize and see what happens.

    • I had mild eczema and these little bumps on my arms all my life. When I switched to a gluten free diet for other reasons — these both disappeared. It’s worth a try!

  • I had bumps on the back of my arms al my life but I’m not sure they were KP as they were not red. They “felt like” ingrown hairs. I got rid of them when I switched from regular soaps and body washes to homemade soaps. As indicated in the first step above, these soaps do not contain the harsh lathering agents…just good ol’ fashioned lye and fat (oils). In addition to getting rid of those bumps, I have never had a problem with winter-dry cracked elbows since using the homemade soaps. Jillee has a wonderful photo tutorial on making crockpot soap if you want to give it a try.

  • This can also be caused by allergies. A friend of mine had this issue until she realized she was allergic to all furry animals. She moved them out of her house, and the bumps went away.

  • That’s interesting about the gluten sensitivity connection. I cut out milk (not all dairy, just whole fat milk) and my KP got amazingly better.

  • I read recently of the link between KP and gluten sensitivity. Try cutting that out for a month & see if you notice a difference. It worked for me.

  • This all sounds wonderful BUT we are highly allergic to coconut in any form. Is there anything we can use to substitute for the coconut oil? Thanks and thanks for an informative article.

  • Believe it or not, cod liver oil made mine disappear. I thought it was a fluke, so I quit taking the capsules. I was wrong! It took about 2-3 months to see a difference. Another benefit: cod liver oil is full of the healthy fats your brain needs.

    • Absolutely!! My children are all plagued with KP from their father’s side of the family. My 2 girls have gone gluten free, one because of Celiac Disease, and the other from a gluten intolerance. Both of them have cleared up all their KP. My son, stubborn boy that he is, refuses to go gluten free and his KP is so bad it is being treated with retinol.

  • My daughter’s have had it too. But there is an excellent lotion over-the-counter called AmLactin. It is specifically designed for this problem. Good luck to you all.

  • Thank you for addressing this! I’ve been plagued for years by KP and at 32 it seems to be even worse with a recent pregnancy and then summer heat. I really appreciate reading all the tips and I am going to give some possible new remedies a try!

  • Thank you for this information my 3yr old daughter has KP on her cheeks. All her doctor told us is to keep it moisturized and with her age I understand that. Glad to know there is a little bit more we can do as she gets older and a few more things we can do now that are still gentle.

  • I have had this since I was a child too. I have found that AmLactin lotion used after my shower, when the skin is still damp really helps. I get it at Costco, where it’s cheaper then the drug store, and sometimes they even have it on sale. I just wish it smelled better, but really works.

  • As far as allergies are concerned–scads allergies cause skin troubles. If you think your bumps are caused by allergies, don’t just assume that gluten or dairy is the cause. You should get tested and learn what your specific allergies are.
    Really glad to see you listed coconut oil as a remedy. I had the bumps all over the underside of my upper arms. I never had the official diagnosis of KP so not sure it I had it. Anyway– I applied pure coconut oil to the area after showers & it was gone in just under a week. That was about 1 year ago & it has not come back.

  • I was told many years ago it was a Vitamin A deficiency. When I have problems with it I take vitamin A. You can get too much vitamin A so don’t overdo it. I had a build up of it and I took a teaspoon of oil and it went right away.

    I love your blog site.

  • I also had good success with AmLactin. I’d rub it on my arms after a shower. I got it at Target and it wasn’t all that expensive. One bottle lasted me for many months.

  • Thank you so much for this. I have it and both my son (5) and daughter (2) have it on their arms and cheeks. I love the coconut oil/tea tree oil idea. Another one I’ve tried for myself is DermaDoctor’s KP Duty cream and I had pretty good results.

  • I’ve read that a slight mineral deficiency, magnesium especially, can cause these to flare up. Mine SEEM to lessen when I take a small dose of a calcium magnesium blend

  • cetaphil mixed in a seperate cup with essential oil from GNC mixed very well and rubbed on the skin. It worked very well for all kinds of skin issues!
    Squeaky Lege

  • I suffer from KP and have most of my life. Exfoliation combined with moisturizing helps a lot. Now I occasionally have “breakouts” but it is rare.

    Definitely will try some of these methods too.

    Thank you!

  • My son developed this on the back of his arms when he was young. Doctor said it was hereditary. Sure enough I had it too on the back of my arms and never realized it or what it was. A couple of years ago I eliminated processed foods from our diet and chemicals in our cleaning/beauty products. His KP disappeared. Mine greatly lessened. Just recently In the past 2 weeks I’ve made 2 changes in my life – I started drinking 2 large glasses of water every morning as soon as I wake up and a half hour before eating/taking vitamins, and I stopped using soap all over my body (only on the important parts that would require soap, or when visibly dirty). I can’t say for sure which to give credit to but I noticed within only a few days of incorporating these habits that my KP had disappeared completely!

  • Pretty sure I get very mild KP on my arms every now n then, but it’s so mild it doesn’t really bother me. Particularly as it appears to coincide with when I’m not eating, drinking and exercising as I should, and a return to good habits seems to knock it on the head.
    However, the thing I can’t kick is ingrown hairs, especially in my inner thighs (yum). I think I might try your ACV and coconut oil tips above on that. What do you think? Got any other ideas?

    • Exfoliating and moisturizing should tackle those ingrown hairs, too. Exfoliate with a scrub, brush, or an AHA and moisturize, moisturize, moisturize–coconut oil would be great :-)

  • Sometimes these red bumps are a lack of vitamin A. My son gets these because he is not so crazy about the veggies/fruit with Vitamin A. I juice carrots with 3-4 different colored fruits/veggies/greens in it for him. In one day, the bumps are almost gone. Within two or three, his skin is pristine.

  • This is not a holistic solution (neither are a lot of the ones mentioned above), but it WILL work. AmLactin cream / lotion. It is purchased at a pharmacy (behind the counter, but no prescription needed). Or you can find it online. It is expensive for a lotion, you will be paying at least $10 for a bottle, but it will last forever and it WILL work. The main ingredient is Lactic Acid. It is made by Upsher Smith — a pharmaceutical company out of MN I think.

    There is a prescription one, if you have good insurance and your doctor writes a script for you: LacHydrin is the name of that one and I do not know what company manufactures that one.

    But in my early 20s I had great insurance and just got the prescription kind because it only cost me $5 for a huge bottle of it with my co-pay!

    Good luck!!

  • Just a correction, if I may. If you wear sunscreen you cannot produce Vitamin D as the sunscreen blocks the rays essential for our bodies to produce it. 10-15 minutes of unprotected sunshine is necessary for the Vitamin D production. If you are very fair, don’t go out for sun exposure during high sun (10am-2pm typically).

  • I suffered with this for 49 years. Many of the suggestions were tried, including AHA creams and lotions to no avail. What finally worked for me is a gentle SLS free shower gel and natural paraben/chemical free lotion made by Shea Moisture. This wonderful product line has made a world of difference. I stock up when it goes on sale 2 for 1 or BOGO 50%. My man actually told me he loves my skin it is so silky!! I will start using a humidifier this winter, and try the ACV/water spray for exfoliation as part of my regimen. Thanks for the great article!!

  • Pediatric dermatologist suggested eucerin or Amlactin for our 10-year old who has it mainly on his face. We went with the Amlactin twice a day. We are now down to once a day because the condition is much better. They said no scrubbing as well.

  • I have KP and when I was a teenager I used to coat my upperarms in Vaseline at night and wrap them with a bandana so it wouldn’t rub off when I slept. The bumps disappeared rather quickly if I remember correctly. Now it’s mostly on my thighs but doesn’t bother me as much anymore.

  • We finally were able to get into see a pediatric dermatologist and our children’s hospital when my daughter was around three. She said that anything with lactic acid would help with the bumps and the KP in general. I can’t stand Eucerin. When my daughter was first born and spent time in the hospital they diagnosed eczema and coated her in the stuff and it did not do anything. So we went with AmLactin and then has been fantastic for her. She actually does have eczema on her cheeks and the AmLactin helps with that as well. thanks for having such a detailed article on this! Really appreciate it.

  • I accidentally cured my Ketatosis Pilaris 11 years ago when I removed gluten from my diet. I have since read that gluten is a major factor in this condition. Several of my children (but not all) also have Ketatosis Pilaris and they too removed gluten from their diets and voilà! No more “chicken skin” for them either! Only one child refused to stop eating gluten and his arms/legs look terrible…he picks at the bumps and they are all scabbed up.

  • The reason these are so common is because they are linked to a gluten and/or dairy intolerance.
    Your body is sending you signs that something you’re putting inside of it isn’t helping.
    My keratosis pilaris disappeared after I’d been gluten and dairy free for a few months. They reappear within days if I “cheat” and eat low quality dairy (sour cream at a Mexican restaurant, crappy cheese from Chipotle, etc.).
    Urea is supposedly helpful (found in urine), but I suspect not many people want to collect their pee and dump it on their bodies. :-) I know Eucerin 10% contains urea, but it’s more expensive (and the pee source is unknown – ha, a little “where is your food from” joke/pun).
    Blessings Jillee – I love your blog!

    Helpful (and suggests some sun as a pro, not a con):
    https://suite.io/christine-e-taylor/31c4278

    Also:
    http://www.keratosispilaris.org/general-discussion/2706-urinetherapy.html

    Book:
    http://www.amazon.com/Your-Own-Perfect-Medicine-Incredible/dp/0963209116

    If all else fails, throw a little breatmilk on it (as my sister, who’s a doula, would say).

  • Norwex washcloths allow you to exfoliate using only water, and skip all the chemicals. Has made an amazing difference on my arms. Our pediatrician also recommended Eucerin plus Smoothing Essentials. I think it’s because it has urea in it that it works. Helped my arms and children’s faces.

  • I read on another website – I don’t remember now whose it was – that you can crush up aspirin in a little bit of water to create a paste. Then you put it on the affected area for 10 minutes or so, then rinse off. I tried it and it seemed to help for a few months. However, I’m noticing it starting to come back now that I’ve been getting more sun. Thanks for the tips!

  • My daughter had a bad case on her face cheeks as a baby. Dermatologist prescribed a lotion that did nothing really. One day she grabbed the lip balm, put some on her lips then her cheeks. Her cheeks cleared up! We let her do it until it was gone and if we notice it coming back we just tell her to put some on. 2 /$1 treatment.

  • This has been rather helpful. I have found that “mild” gel cleansers don’t help at all, instead cream cleansers tend to fair better and using a retinol cream at night has greatly improved the appearance of the bumps on my face.

    I love your blog, keep it up :)

  • I am so guilty of picking at these because they usually have ingrown hairs in them. I have had it since a kid too. It seems to get worse as I age and I am 40. Thanks so much for the tips.

  • Have you notice a significant decrease in using these remedies? My daughter, my husband and I all have this. I think it bugs me the most, I almost always look flushed and burnt. :(

    • I had it pretty constantly on my arms for my whole life (or as long as I can remember), and then I tried avocado oil mixed with aloe vera (straight from the plant) and a couple drops of tea tree oil. Then massage, the massaging is key, massage it all in to the area for about 10 minutes. Cleared it up for me, and my mom used it to clear it up on my Dad’s back too. Nothing’s ever worked nearly as well for me, though sunlight is a close second.

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