What is keratosis pilaris (chicken skin)?

If you’re one of those people who suffer from unsightly raised bumps on the top of your arms, you’ll probably want to know what is keratosis pilaris and how it’s caused. First of all, be assured, that you’re not the only one with this condition. Surprisingly it’s more common than you think, with an estimated 40 – 50% of adults and 50 – 80% of adolescents reporting some form of the condition.
So what is keratosis pilaris? Keratosis pilaris is a very common but harmless condition where the skin becomes rough and bumpy. The appearance is similar to permanent goose pimples and is often referred to as chicken skin, as it resembles the skin of plucked chicken. Affected areas are usually covered in tiny, spiky bumps, about the size of a grain of sand, which can be flesh colored, white in color or red, and will feel rough to the touch, a little bit like sandpaper.
Known to run in families, the condition is hereditary, and the unfortunate news is that if one parent suffers from keratosis pilaris, you will have a 1 in 2 chance of developing the condition yourself.

Put simply, keratosis pilaris happens when your body produces too much keratin, the creamy white protein based substance found in the top layers of the skin. This keratin builds up over the hair follicles like a little plug, preventing the hairs from growing normally, and giving the skin in the area a bumpy, spotty appearance.
It can affect all areas of the body, although the most common place to be affected is the back and outer sides of the upper arms, with some sufferers finding that they suffer from lumps and bumps on their buttocks and the front of the thighs too. Occasionally sufferers will have patches of ‘chicken skin’ on their forearms and the upper back, with the most rare variant affecting the face, scalp, eyebrows and, for some unlucky people, the entire body.

The only parts of the body it can’t affect are the palms of the hands and soles of the feet, as these are covered in glabrous skin – i.e. skin with no hair follicles.
Luckily, while keratosis pilaris can look extremely unsightly, it’s not contagious and can’t be spread from contact with a sufferer. However, for sufferers it can be itchy, and even painful if the skin becomes swollen and inflamed.

The good news is that it tends to improve in the summer months, and most sufferers report an improvement as they get older, with cases of keratosis pilaris being almost non-existent in older people.