When summer comes and we shed our long sleeves, we start to pay a lot more attention to our arms. For some of us that means being sure to apply more sunscreen or self-tanning lotion; for others it might mean doing some push-ups or lifting some weights for muscle definition. For a lot of us, though, it means suddenly becoming super self-conscious about the small, red bumps and rough, bumpy texture that appears without warning on the backs of our arms. It’s usually not itchy, so we know it’s not eczema or psoriasis, and people often call it “chicken skin,” but what is it really? Good Housekeeping has the answer: keratosis pilaris.
And what is keratosis pilaris exactly? A totally harmless – although annoying! – build-up of dead skin cells that are mildly inflamed. The skin condition is common, even among healthy people, and essentially more a cosmetic issue than a health concern. Our body just isn’t doing an awesome job of shedding its dead skin, but there’s nothing to cause worry.
“That’s great,” we can hear you saying, “but how do I get rid of it?! It looks terrible!” There’s always the option of consulting a dermatologist – and we always recommend talking to a professional! – but you can also take Good Housekeeping’s advice:
Unfortunately, there really isn’t a cure-all. But Zeichner recommends treating the area with hydrating and exfoliating ingredients, like lactic acid or salicylic acid, to help remove dead skin cells for a smoother texture. And if you touch them frequently, do yourself a favor and stop — picking or rubbing them can actually make the bumps worse he warns.
But if you’re feeling especially self-conscious, talk to your dermatologist about other options. “In the office, we can prescribe topical retinoids that normalize the growth of skin cells and help prevent dead ones from accumulating in the pores,” says Zeichner. Just a heads up: These aren’t one-time treatments. In order to keep your arms bump-free, you need to be diligent about exfoliation and hydration.