Rough, Spiky Skin

What is rough, spiky skin?
Known as keratosis pilaris (KP), it is a common, non-contagious condition usually found on the upper arms, cheeks, jawline, or eyebrows as well as thighs, and occasionally on the back or buttocks. KP is characterised by rough, spiky, gooseflesh-type bumpy skin that is red or brown in colour and each one is a plug of dead skin cells that forms at the site of a hair follicle. A particularly troublesome variety produces a lot of redness of the face (keratosis pilaris rubra).

Most common at puberty, between 50-80% of children and adolescents are affected. Among adults, about 40% of adults have KP and its incidence generally diminishes with age; it is rare among the elderly. Those who are more prone to developing KP include women, the fair skinned, the obese, or those who have atopic dermatitis (eczema) or ichthyosis. The condition can be easily treated through ongoing topical treatments.

What causes keratosis pilaris?
KP is known to be hereditary, but beyond this, its root cause is unknown. It may be a disorder of hyper-keratinisation. This means that the rather than exfoliating, the hair follicles (pilaris) form a spiky plug. As a result, the pores become wider and more noticeable. Often a curled hair appears beneath the bump.

The condition can often become more severe in the winter months as skin becomes dryer.

Available treatments

KP is often chronic and treatment consists of a process of continuing maintenance rather than cure. Symptoms tend to diminish with age, but this is not always the case. Short-term treatments are not highly successful, so in order to overcome the symptoms of KP, regular topical skin care treatments must be used indefinitely.

Protecting the natural moisture that keeps the skin healthy will ensure that your skin doesn't become dry and itchy. Healthy, moisturised skin can be maintained with:

Also, avoid picking and squeezing at the bumps as this may result in secondary infections and scarring; and avoid scratchy, tight-fitting clothing, which may irritate the KP or even cause infection of the bumps.

Topical treatments
KP can be easily controlled with ongoing topical treatments. The daily application of emollients such as a moisturising cream is often the most suitable option for mild cases. Over-the-counter lactic acid or urea-based products help the skin's surface to retain moisture and may be more appropriate in cases of more severe dryness.