Those annoying bumps on your arms are usually (although not always) caused by a skin condition called keratosis pilaris. Here, derms share their best tricks to get rid of KP for good.

By Kathleen Mulpeter
Updated: May 16, 2019
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Do you have tiny red bumps on your upper arms that don't go away no matter how religiously you moisturize? While bumps on your arms are frustrating any time of year, they're particularly annoying in the winter-to-spring transition when you're switching out your heavy sweaters for light, skin-baring tops.

Not all bumps on arms are caused by the same culprit, experts say. Body acne can appear on the upper arms, as can folliculitis (inflammation of the hair follicles), prurigo nodularis (which causes itchy, crusted bumps), or bug bites. More often, though, these little bumps are triggered by a common skin condition called keratosis pilaris (KP), which presents as small, rough bumps that may be red.

For more on skin conditions, check out our Skin Conditions Center

What causes bumps on the arms?

"KP is due to plugs of dead skin in the follicles," says Arielle Nagler, MD, a dermatologist with NYU Langone Health in New York City. "It's most commonly found on the upper arms and legs but can also be seen on other areas of the skin."

According to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD), keratosis pilaris usually begins either before the age of two or during the teenage years. Although frustrating, KP is completely harmless and not contagious. The condition appears to run in families, and people with eczema or atopic dermatitis have a higher risk of developing these bumps, says Ava Shamban, MD, a Beverly Hills-based dermatologist and founder of SKINxFIVE. "It's a lifelong condition," she adds.

How to treat bumps on arms

Unlike most skin-related concerns (read: wrinkles, dark spots, elasticity), keratosis pilaris should actually improve with age for most people, according to the AAD. You may also notice that it's worse in the winter and fades when temperatures rise, says Dr. Nagler—good news for those breaking out their summer tank tops and off-the-shoulder blouses.

Although there's no cure for KP, at-home strategies can help minimize symptoms. To tackle these bumps, Dr. Nagler suggests cleansing with a gentle, non-abrasive soap—we like Cetaphil Ultra Gentle Body Wash ($7; amazon.com), which is fragrance-free and contains soothing ingredients like aloe vera.

Next, exfoliation can help "unplug" those built-up dead skin cells so the bumps can heal. Dr. Shamban recommends looking for products that contain chemical exfoliators such as glycolic acid and alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs), while Dr. Nagler likes lactic or salicylic acid. When in doubt, you can't go wrong with anything from DermaDoctor's KP Duty line, a range of products specifically formulated to fight keratosis pilaris. Their KP Duty Body Scrub ($46; sephora.com) contains glycolic and lactic acids to slough away dead skin right in the shower, while the KP Duty High Potency Daily Body Peel ($56; sephora.com) utilizes 17 different acids to resurface skin.

Physical exfoliation can help, too. In a previous interview with Health, New York City-based dermatologist Debra Jaliman, MD, recommended a Clarisonic Brush ($100; amazon.com) to gently soften skin. But for a more affordable option, try a simple loofah sponge. "My experience has shown me that the best treatment is exfoliating with a loofah," says Dr. Shamban. We like this one, which is just $6 for a two-pack on amazon.com.

After exfoliating, make sure to slather on lotion. "Moisturizing the skin can make KP less noticeable," notes Dr. Nagler. She likes urea creams (our pick: DermaDoctor's KP 'Double' Duty lotion), while Dr. Shamban is partial to Vanicream ($7; dermstore.com), a heavy moisturizer packed with nourishing ingredients to leave skin feeling soft and smooth.

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