Strawberry Legs: What They Are and How To Treat Them

Here's what you need to know about dealing with these dark pores on your legs.

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I have a confession to make: Not only have I struggled with blackheads and oiliness on my T-zone, but I have also noticed that the pores on my legs can be a bit dark, resulting in what's called "chicken skin" or strawberry legs.

Normally I wouldn't care—because my legs are rarely bare, thanks to New York's eight-month winter—but wearing leggy shorts and dresses has made me feel a little self-conscious during the summertime.

Strawberry legs are exactly what they sound like dark spots or pink dots on your legs that resemble the skin and seeds of a strawberry. The official medical term is keratosis pilaris, and those seed-like dots are actually open pores harboring oil, dirt, or bacteria after shaving, Debra Jaliman, MD, a dermatologist based in New York City, told Health.

Having strawberry legs seems to be a skin issue that plenty of other people have dealt with: About 40% of adults have keratosis pilaris, along with 50-80% of adolescents, according to an October 2021 review published in Cureus.

Additionally, keratosis pilaris can often be resistant to treatment and requires a maintenance plan after treatment has started, per the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD).

If you find yourself among those dealing with strawberry legs, dermatologists share tips and products below that can help manage the condition.

What Causes Strawberry Legs?

The skin creates a buildup of a protein called keratin—the same building block for hair, skin, and nails—and the keratin creates a plug that blocks the hair follicle, leading to small bumps, explained Rachel Nazarian, MD, a New York-based dermatologist and a fellow of the AAD.

"The plug can also trigger inflammation in the skin, which is what causes the redness around each hair follicle," Dr. Nazarian added.

Furthermore, the hair follicles can become irritated by sweat and rubbing, so wearing loose clothing and keeping the skin cool and dry can help. In some cases, individual spots may become inflamed, so don't pick at these spots, since that can lead to irritation and even permanent scars, said Joshua Zeichner, MD, director of cosmetic and clinical research in dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City.

Keratosis pilaris appears most often on the back of upper arms, but many people can also have small, hard bumps on their thighs, legs, and even their backside. Folliculitis is another condition that can appear similar and is triggered by inflamed and irritated hair follicles on the thighs and legs, Dr. Nazarian added.

Both conditions are very common, and not dangerous, but can be occasionally itchy or painful. However, people are usually just bothered by the cosmetic appearance.

Although it's considered a genetic condition, we don't know why some people get keratosis pilaris, and others don't, Dr. Nazarian pointed out. We also don't know why it happens in some areas of the body and not others.

Dr. Nazarian did note that people with sensitive skin, like those with eczema, are more likely to have and show symptoms of keratosis pilaris. The AAD also noted that excess body weight; asthma; hay fever; dry skin or ichthyosis vulgaris (a condition where the skin becomes very dry); and using vemurafenib for melanoma treatment can also increase the chances of having keratosis pilaris.

The Best Dermatologist-Approved Treatments

Combining strategies to prevent strawberry legs and adding the right products into your skincare routine can help treat keratosis pilaris if you already have it.

Invest in a good exfoliator, since ingredients that reduce the appearance of pores can also help treat keratosis pilaris, Dr. Zeichner suggested. Look for products that feature glycolic or salicylic acid, which ease inflammation, unclog pores, and exfoliate dead cells from the skin.

Dr. Zeichner's pick was Neutrogena Pore Refining Exfoliating Cleanser, a pore-refining cleanser that penetrates to remove dirt, oil, and makeup for a smoother, healthier complexion.

Dr. Jaliman liked CeraVe SA Cream for Rough and Bumpy Skin because it contains salicylic acid to gently dissolve keratin without irritation. Dr. Jaliman was also a fan of Glytone Exfoliating Body Lotion, which boasts glycolic acid to exfoliate dead skin and help with the uneven texture associated with strawberry legs.

Use a gentle cream when shaving—like Dove Body Mousse—and a razor or epilator with fewer blades (two blades is ideal) to avoid further irritation, Dr. Nazarian advised. Slather on moisturizer afterward with ingredients like colloidal oatmeal or ceramides, which help soothe and protect skin to minimize the appearance of dark spots, Dr. Zeichner said.

Dr. Zeichner recommended Aveeno Skin Relief Moisture Repair Cream, which provides all-day hydration and is also fragrance-free and non-comedogenic, so it won't irritate skin or clog pores further.

Topical retinoids are also helpful for keratosis pilaris. Retinoids are skincare products with vitamin A, per the AAD. They can increase turnover in the follicle, improve skin tone, and prevent keratin backup in pores. Retinoids might consist of products like tretinoin creams, according to Johns Hopkins Medicine, but they may also be in the form of retinol, adapalene, or tazarotene.

What Else To Know About Strawberry Legs

"The most common mistake I see my patients making is trying to 'scrub' the bumps off, or using a rough loofah to exfoliate the bumps away," Dr. Nazarian told us. While this technique is a temporary fix—it will dislodge the keratin plugs—rough exfoliation can inflame skin and hair more, ultimately causing redness and making the condition even more noticeable, Dr. Nazarian added.

The best way to treat keratosis pilaris is to wash your skin with a gentle cleanser, pat the skin dry, and apply a daily cream or lotion with salicylic or glycolic acid that will dissolve the keratin plugs without irritating your skin further.

Continuous use of these creams and lotions will certainly help smooth skin, minimize redness, and reduce the appearance of strawberry legs over time. However, keratosis pilaris is a difficult dermatological condition to treat. Per the AAD, "[t]reatment cannot cure keratosis pilaris": Bumps may reappear once treatment is discontinued.

Still, Dr. Nazarian has reminded her patients not to get discouraged since many people grow out of the condition and it typically lessens with age.

If you find that you're still having difficulties with your skin, contact a dermatologist for assistance with treatment options.

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