What is keratosis pilaris: The causes, symptoms and treatment options behind chicken skin

What is keratosis pilaris: The causes, symptoms and treatment options behind chicken skin

Bumpy ride

Text: Jean Chua

Editor: Emily Heng

Say chicken skin, and a visual of tasty, addictively crunchy KFC fried chicken comes to mind. Or, perhaps not. As it turns out, the term can also be used in reference to a skin condition known as keratosis pilaris. Instead of being finger lickin' good, this affliction just... leaves your fingers with hard, raised bumps. Eep. And if you're wondering why exactly you need to know about chicken skin even when you currently don't have it, well, don't count your chickens eggs before they hatch — this condition can occur to anyone at any time. Read on.

What is chicken skin?

Keratosis pilaris is a common skin condition that causes small, hard bumps. Said bumps are also dry to touch, where grazing it feels like you're touching sandpaper. They look and feel like goosebumps, but appear red or brown in colour and are commonly found on the upper arms, thighs, cheeks, or even the buttocks. It is not contagious.

Is chicken skin painful?

The bumps usually don't hurt or itch but minor itching may occur.

What are the symptoms of chicken skin?

The most notable symptom of chicken skin is its appearance. The visible bumps appearing on the skin resemble that of goosebumps or the skin of a plucked chicken. For this reason, it's commonly known as "chicken skin." The bumps can appear anywhere on the skin where hair follicles exist, and therefore will never appear on the soles of your feet or palms of your hands. Other signs of chicken skin include: rough, dry skin, goosebumps that match your skin tone (where they look like pimples/ a rash and may be itchy in some cases) and are more noticeable in dry conditions.

What causes chicken skin?

Chicken skin is the result of a buildup of keratin, a hair protein, in the pores. If you have chicken skin, it means the keratin of your body hair is clogged in the pores, thus blocking the opening of growing hair follicles. As a result, a small bump forms over where a hair should be. If you were to pick at the bump, you may notice a strand of hair emerge.

Who is susceptible to chicken skin?

Chicken skin is more likely to develop in people with dry skin, or who experience skin conditions like eczema and/or in people with fair skin. Anyone can be susceptible to this skin condition, but it's most common in children and teenagers. It often begins in late infancy or during adolescence and typically clears up in one's mid-20s, with most cases completely gone by the age of 30. Hormonal changes can also cause flare-ups during pregnancy for women and during puberty for teenagers.

How can chicken skin be treated?

Moisturising lotions or creams may help to soothe itchy, dry skin and improve the skin's appearance from the keratosis rash. A variety of these are available at your local pharmacy, but you'll need a prescription for stronger versions. Two common ingredients within moisturising treatments are urea and lactic acid. Together, these ingredients help to loosen and remove dead skin cells and soften dry skin.

Be wary of the ingredients in these creams though, and talk with your doctor before using them. Some prescription topical creams include acids that may cause negative side effects such as redness, stinging, irritation and dryness. Home remedies such as taking warm baths, exfoliating, applying hydrating lotion and using humidifiers can also help minimise bumps, itching and irritation.


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