Help, I have strawberry legs and chicken skin arms
Glide over the road bumps of keratosis pilaris
Separately, the words keratosis and pilaris sound like treatments you would get during a trip to the salon. “Get one keratosis mask ready for Sheetal’s dry hair, and go easy on the pilaris for Aliya. We don’t want her face turning red before her best friend’s wedding (she’s already got her outfits ready).” But put them together, and you get a stubborn yet incredibly common skin condition, keratosis pilaris.
Run your hands down your thighs or the outside of your upper arms. Does it feel rough and bumpy? Keratosis pilaris can look like tiny little pimples, sometimes brown or reddish in colour. Arms, legs, bum, and sometimes even on your cheeks, Dr Manasi Shirolikar, consultant dermatologist and founder of drmanasiskin.com, says keratosis pilaris is commonly known as chicken skin or strawberry legs.
I recently shot for some images and just when they were about to go in for post-production (a common procedure) to conceal my skin-condition called Keratosis-Pilaris, I thought, ‘Hey Yami, why don’t you embrace this fact and accept it enough to be OKAY with it. pic.twitter.com/N51MoG0LLr
— Yami Gautam Dhar (@yamigautam) October 4, 2021
“Just like the exterior of a strawberry feels ‘seedy’, your skin feels seedy because of the keratin (a protein) that blocks the hair follicles,” says Shirolikar.
Often mistaken for pimples or acne, Shirolkar explains that keratosis pilaris is actually hair follicles that don’t make it to the surface of the skin, being blocked by keratin. “So, they coil around the surface because of nowhere to go and end up looking like tiny bumps.”
Keratin is a type of protein that our skin naturally produces. But for some people, these blocked follicles could appear because of a genetic tendency, or under- or over-exfoliation of the skin. They’re called keratosis bumps, says dermatologist Dr Nishita Ranka, medical director and founder of Dr Nishita’a Clinic for Skin, Hair & Aesthetics.
Is there a way to avoid keratosis pilaris?
Misunderstanding keratosis pillars means that 99% of people try to scrub it away with a loofah, body brush, or homemade packs, says Ranka. “But any type of friction is going to induce more keratinisation and increase this condition even further. Later, it won’t even respond to topical therapy.”
If it is genetic, then there is little you can do to avoid it. Sometimes it can be caused due to hormonal changes as well, says Shirolikar, but it’s a harmless and non-contagious condition that most people have to some degree. Keep your skin hydrated, moisturised and dry to minimise the appearance, and you can even add certain topical skincare ingredients and in-clinic treatments if it continues to bother you.
What should I be using?
Ranka and Shirolkar recommend using alpha hydroxy acids like glycolic acid or its gentler cousin, lactic acid. Beta hydroxy acids (BHAs) such as salicylic acid can be effective too, as well as urea.
The exfoliating acids will help unclog the pores, though they can be drying, so follow up with a good moisturiser. Ranka adds, “It’s best to consult a dermatologist to choose the percentage that could be used for the skin and the environment that you’re residing in.”
Depending on your skin type and product preference, you can get effective results from body washes, leave-on serums, creams, and lotions. Don’t forget a solid moisturiser.
Exfoliants for the body
If you’re not comfortable with a leave-on treatment or are prone to going overboard and over-exfoliating your skin, we suggest you try temporary exfoliants instead. By temporary, we mean products that you only leave on for a little while. This way, you can get the benefits of the exfoliating ingredient in a short time and wash up. It’s an especially helpful approach for those who are new to exfoliation and want to take things slow.
Exfoliating body cream and lotion
This is our preferred method of exfoliation when it comes to body care, but you do need to be a bit careful. Leave-on products do a lot of good, but if you’re like us and tend to get a bit too excited about using high-strength ingredients regularly, then you’re on a bumpy ride to over-exfoliation nation. This will only worsen keratosis pilaris. Ease into it, do patch tests, and always follow up with good sunscreen.
Hydrating body lotions
Like the experts have said, there’s no point in exfoliating if you’re not going to give your skin the big glug of hydration that it needs. With an influx of products in the market, you will easily find a body lotion or moisturiser that suits your skin’s needs. You can go for a light lotion or heavy cream for the cooler months, or if you have super dry skin, then look for creams infused with enriching oils that nourish your skin.
Is there a more permanent solution?
If patience isn’t your strong suit (we get it), then our experts say you could opt for in-clinic procedures such as fractional CO2, pulsed dye laser, and chemical peels to prevent and treat keratosis pilaris. Microdermabrasion can help soften the roughness, followed by a peel; it can help improve the bumpy appearance by 40%-50%, says Ranka. Both dermatologists agree that what helps the most is laser hair reduction.
“Since the root cause of this problem is the hair follicle, if we get rid of the hair follicle by laser hair reduction —like permanently damaging the hair follicle — the keratosis can improve by itself after this,” says Ranka.
Shirolikar advises skipping the long hot showers that can dry skin out. Waxing and shaving can aggravate this condition, especially when you go in the opposite direction of the hair follicle.
She adds that the misdiagnosis of keratosis pilaris goes both ways. Often what people think is keratosis pilaris can actually be an infection. Monitor it; if you find it spreading, inflamed and terribly itchy coupled with fever, it could be a skin infection or an allergic reaction that needs a doctor’s intervention.
A note of caution: This story is for educational purposes with inputs from trained experts. Please consult your healthcare provider to know what suits your needs best.
Representative featured image: Dainis Graveris on SexualAlpha