Keratosis pilaris is a benign skin disorder involving a blockage of the hair follicles by keratin, a protein that protects the skin from infection. When the condition occurs, a scaly plug forms, blocking the opening at the end of the hair follicle. In most instances, many plugs form at the same time, creating patches of rough, bumpy skin. Typically, keratosis pilaris appears on the upper arms, thighs, cheeks and buttocks. When evident on the face, it is sometimes mistaken for acne.
Though occasionally pink, the small visible bumps of keratosis pilaris are usually white and coarse in texture, and may be surrounded by pink skin. While these blemishes are harmless and typically do not result in itching or pain, they may be a cause of frustration because of their negative effect on the appearance.
Risk Factors for Keratosis Pilaris
While the underlying cause of keratosis pilaris is unknown, the disorder is more commonly found in individuals with atopic dermatitis, also known as eczema, but may also occur in people without this condition. Since keratosis pilaris is commonly associated with excessively dry skin, it is more often observed in the winter when cold outdoor air and indoor heat combine to dry out the skin. There appears to be a genetic component to this ailment as it seems to run in families. Keratosis pilaris is more common in children and is usually observed in adults under the age of 30.
Diagnosis and Treatment for Keratosis Pilaris
Keratosis pilaris is usually diagnosed by simple physical examination, requiring no special tests. While it is a condition that often recurs, it usually disappears permanently as patients age. Treatments include moisturizing creams and over-the-counter exfoliants. In more persistent cases, topical corticosteroids or retinoids may be prescribed.
When keratosis causes a severe inflammation, a course of laser treatment may be prescribed in which intense pulsing light is administered to the affected area. Laser therapy is typically administered in a series of sessions. Keratosis pilaris has a tendency to persist for years, even though some of the aforementioned treatments may alleviate symptoms for a period of time. The good news is that the condition almost always eventually resolves on its own.