How Is Keratosis Pilaris Treated?

Treatment options may include exfoliation, topical medications, chemical peels, and lasers.

Keratosis pilaris is a skin condition that occurs when dead skin cells and keratin clog the hair follicles. As a result, small, acne-like bumps appear, commonly on the upper arms and thighs.

There is no cure for keratosis pilaris. The bumps may reduce over time with topical medicines. A dermatologist may advise chemical peels or lasers for stubborn cases.

Treatment goals include reducing the appearance of bumps and preventing flares.

What Is Keratosis Pilaris?

Keratosis pilaris is a common skin condition in which dead skin cells and keratin clog the hair follicles. Keratin is a protein in the skin. Keratosis pilaris resembles goosebumps on the upper arms and thighs.

Bumps may have the following characteristics:

  • Feel like sandpaper
  • Skin-colored and surrounded by slight pinkness
  • About the size of a sand grain
  • May look like acne if they pop up on the face 

What Causes Keratosis Pilaris?

Keratosis pilaris is not a contagious skin condition. Instead, you may develop bumps if dead skin cells and keratin clog your hair follicles.

Anyone can develop keratosis pilaris. Although, most commonly, keratosis pilaris occurs in adolescents, with between 50% and 80% affected. In fact, hormone changes during puberty may trigger the skin condition. The bumps usually fade by your mid-20s if keratosis pilaris develops during childhood or adolescence. Around 40% of adults have keratosis pilaris.

Other factors that increase the risk of keratosis pilaris include:

  • Atopic dermatitis (eczema)
  • Asthma
  • Dry skin
  • Obesity
  • Allergies
  • Certain medicines, especially ones that treat melanoma
  • Family history of keratosis pilaris

For the most part, the bumps improve over time. Some treatments may reduce the appearance of keratosis pilaris.


Taking care of your skin is one of the best ways to treat keratosis pilaris. Start by cleansing with a gentle, hypoallergenic soap. Avoid picking at or popping the bumps whenever you touch the affected area.

Next, exfoliation can help unplug built-up dead skin cells and keratin to heal the bumps. Look for products that contain chemical exfoliators, such as glycolic, lactic, or salicylic acid.

Apply moisturizer after every shower or bath while your skin is still damp. Moisturizers can help smoothen your skin and reduce the appearance of bumps. Keep in mind that it may take several months to improve the bumps, which may reappear.

Topical Medications

Beyond taking care of your skin, treating keratosis pilaris is unnecessary. Still, some topical medications may help. 

For example, some evidence suggests that salicylic acid lotion and urea cream smoothen skin texture. A dermatologist may prescribe retinoids or vitamin D3 derivatives. Specifically, tazarotene, a type of retinoid, may reduce the appearance of bumps within four to eight weeks.

Those topical medications may cosmetically treat keratosis pilaris. As of 2023, there is no cure for the skin condition.

Chemical Peels

In some cases, chemical peels using glycolic acid may reduce the appearance of bumps.

A study published in 2021 examined the effects of glycolic acid on keratosis pilaris. The researchers applied 50% and 70% glycolic acid to circular areas on the skin of 25 people four times over 60 days. Keratosis pilaris improved as soon as 20 days after treatment. The bumps slowly reappeared over time. 


Some laser therapies may be effective at treating keratosis pilaris. For example, research has found that pulsed dye, alexandrite, Nd:YAG, and fractional CO2 are among some lasers that might reduce the appearance of bumps.

A review published in 2020 found that laser therapies can provide more long-term results than topical medications.

Living With and Managing Keratosis Pilaris

Keratosis pilaris often improves with age. Still, you may notice flares of bumps, especially if your skin is dry. 

Taking the following steps can help prevent flares:

  • Moisturize: Since keratosis pilaris flares if your skin is dry, moisturizing often can help. Apply moisturizer two to three times daily or more if needed.
  • Be careful with hair removal: To avoid bumps, consider laser hair removal instead of shaving or waxing.
  • Reduce your time in the shower or bath: Reducing your time in the water to less than 20 minutes avoids drying out your skin. Use warm water. 
  • Use gentle cleansers: Liquid soaps are gentler than bar soaps.
  • Avoid self-tanning lotion: Although it does not cause flares, self-tanning lotion may make bumps stand out.
  • Use a humidifier: A humidifier can reduce dry skin if the air is dry.

Consulting a dermatologist may help if keratosis pilaris does not improve with at-home treatments.

A Quick Review

Keratosis pilaris causes small, acne-like bumps on the skin, commonly on the upper arms and thighs. Although there is no cure for keratosis pilaris, proper skincare and topical medicines can reduce the appearance of bumps. In fact, you may prevent flares by keeping your skin moisturized. A dermatologist may advise chemical peels or lasers for stubborn cases.

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  2. Pennycook KB, McCready TA. Keratosis pilaris. In: StatPearls. StatPearls Publishing; 2022.

  3. American Academy of Dermatology Association. Keratosis pilaris: Self-care.

  4. American Academy of Dermatology Association. Keratosis pilaris: Who gets and causes.

  5. Kootiratrakarn T, Kampirapap K, Chunhasewee C. Epidermal permeability barrier in the treatment of keratosis pilarisDermatol Res Pract. 2015;2015:205012. doi:10.1155/2015/205012

  6. Tian Y, Li XX, Zhang JJ, et al. Clinical outcomes and 5-year follow-up results of keratosis pilaris treated by a high concentration of glycolic acidWorld J Clin Cases. 2021;9(18):4681-4689. doi:10.12998/wjcc.v9.i18.4681

  7. Kechichian E, Jabbour S, El Hachem L, et al. Light and laser treatments for keratosis pilaris: A systematic reviewDermatol Surg. 2020;46(11):1397-1402. doi:10.1097/DSS.0000000000002441

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