How To Treat Keratosis Pilaris With Simple Diet Changes & Natural Skin Care Products
Typically, I try to be accepting of my body (after all, it does some pretty amazing things), but there's one thing I really wish I could change: the bumpy skin on the backs of my upper arms and thighs that's plagued me since I was a kid. The technical term: keratosis pilaris (KP), which some refer to as "chicken skin."
So, I reached out to a handful of dermatologists about the underlying cause of these pesky red bumps and how to eliminate them in the most natural way possible. Spoiler alert: There's a surprising dietary connection!
So, what causes KP in the first place?
Keratosis pilaris, or KP, is simply a buildup of keratin and dead skin cells within the hair follicles, which causes them to bulge and become irritated and inflamed, giving your skin a bumpy texture. Typically, KP appears on the backs of the arms, the fronts of the thighs, and sometimes on your butt. And loads of people are affected—an estimated 50 to 80 percent of all adolescents and approximately 40 percent of adults.
But what makes you prone to those annoying red bumps while others get to flaunt their gloriously smooth upper arms? You can partially blame your parents. "It's a genetic and chronic condition, and dry skin can make it much worse," says Lisa Airan, M.D., an NYC-based dermatologist specializing in natural, high-tech skin care. It can be managed, she says, but only with continued therapy.
But more surprisingly, your diet may also exacerbate symptoms. "What I'm beginning to suspect is that this is a low-grade inflammation in the body that's showing up in the hair follicle," says holistic dermatologist Alan Dattner, M.D., adding that increasing your intake of certain nutrients and eliminating certain foods that contribute to inflammation and leaky gut (like gluten, for some) may help eliminate or reduce KP.
6 dermatologist-approved tips to treat KP naturally.
You can certainly try all of these strategies at once to up your chances of success, but if you do, just keep in mind that it may be hard to tell which particular strategy is working best. So, if you think your KP could be influenced by diet, Dr. Dattner recommends changing that first (giving it at least a month to see if you notice your skin calming down) and then incorporating some of the skin-smoothing products on this list to enhance the benefit.
1. Clean up your diet and support your gut.
Because your KP may be exacerbated by chronic, low-grade inflammation, adopting a whole-foods-based, antioxidant-rich diet like the Mediterranean diet can go a long way in reducing inflammation, supporting gut health, and potentially relieving some of your symptoms. But that won't be enough for everyone.
While his treatment approach varies slightly from patient to patient, Dr. Dattner says he often recommends increasing intake of vitamin A and vitamin D, both of which encourage healthy skin cell production. Additionally, he recommends supporting the health of the microbiome and improving digestion with probiotics and digestive enzymes, since a damaged or leaky gut can contribute to chronic inflammation by allowing substances into the body that shouldn't be there. And, of course, if you think you may be sensitive to certain foods like dairy or gluten, you'll want to stop eating them too. Because, again, inflammation.
2. Avoid hot showers and baths.
As mentioned above, dry skin will only make your KP worse. In fact, some people say their bumps clear during the summer only to return in the winter, according to the American Academy of Dermatology. For this reason, Dr. Airan recommends avoiding long, hot showers or baths, which can suck moisture from the skin, and always following up with a moisturizer of some kind.
3. Exfoliate at least once a week.
"Regular exfoliation is the mainstay of management of this chronic skin condition," says Dr. Airan, who often recommends the Clarisonic cleansing brush to her patients, as it "provides gentle exfoliation that can reduce the appearance of KP by clearing the accumulation of skin cells and plugs." But if you don't want to shell out the cash for this skin-smoothing appliance, any physical exfoliant or body scrub will do. Just be sure to use a gentle pressure, as over-exfoliating can increase inflammation.
4. Use a body wash for acne-prone skin.
Turns out, some of the same ingredients that help treat pimples are also the ones that treat bumpy chicken skin. "An acne body wash containing AHAs (alpha-hydroxy acids) would be helpful for managing KP," says Dr. Airan, who says that a mild 2 percent salicylic acid cleanser can help gently remove buildup and excess skin cells. Try the Alba Botanica Acnedote Maximum Strength Face & Body Scrub ($8) featuring salicylic acid and finely ground walnut shells to clear clogged follicles.
5. Slather on an AHA-infused moisturizer.
Staying hydrated is key, but using any old moisturizer probably won't significantly reduce your KP bumps. So, after cleansing (and while your skin is still somewhat damp), Dr. Airan recommends applying a moisturizer that contains AHAs like lactic acid, salicylic acid, or urea to help improve skin texture by softening the keratotic papules.
While Amlactin is often the go-to pick among conventional derms, plenty of natural AHA-containing lotions exist like True Botanicals Body Resurfacing Mask ($48) featuring lactic acid and anti-inflammatory green tea and sandalwood oil.