What is keratosis pilaris?

Keratosis pilaris is a benign skin condition that is sometimes referred to as “chicken skin” or KP. People with keratosis pilaris notice small, painless bumps on their skin around hair follicles. These bumps may have a red, brown, or white color or may be skin-colored.

It is so common that it is considered by many dermatologists to be a skin type rather than a medical condition. It is seen most commonly in families with a history of eczema, allergies and asthma. About 50-80% of teenagers and 40% of adults will develop these bumps at some point during their life. The bumps are most often found on the upper arms, but they can appear elsewhere on the body. Sometimes they appear on the cheeks, legs or buttocks.

Who is most likely to develop keratosis pilaris?

This condition is more common in younger people and often worsens around puberty. Babies and teenagers are especially prone to keratosis pilaris.

You may be more likely to experience keratosis pilaris if you have:

  • Fair or light skin
  • Certain other skin conditions, such as eczema or ichthyosis vulgaris (a genetic condition marked by dead skin cells that look like fish scales)
  • Asthma (a chronic disease that causes breathing problems from inflamed airways)
  • Obesity or are overweight

What causes keratosis pilaris?

Keratosis pilaris bumps are collections of dead skin cells. They’re sometimes mistaken for clusters of small pimples. Keratosis pilaris bumps emerge when dead skin cells clog your pores or hair follicles instead of flaking off.

Doctors don’t know why some people are affected by this condition, while others aren’t. There may be a genetic component, meaning the answer could lie in your family’s genes.

People with certain skin conditions like eczema are more likely to get keratosis pilaris. Eczema is a common chronic condition that causes red, itchy skin patches that come and go over time.

Keratosis pilaris is not contagious. Of the many different types of skin bumps and growths, keratosis pilaris is harmless.

What are the most common keratosis pilaris symptoms?

Groupings of tiny, rough, sometimes discolored bumps are the main feature of keratosis pilaris. Most patients notice the appearance of the bumps, but never have any symptoms related to them. Patients with keratosis pilaris may experience:

  • Itchy or dry skin, especially on the backs of the upper arms, the legs or the buttocks.
  • Irritation of the bumps that causes them to become more red and noticeable, known as frictional lichenoid dermatitis.
  • Rough, sandpaper-like skin where the bumps appear.
  • Worsening when the air is drier (such as in winter months).

Some of these symptoms – like itchy, dry skin – can be caused by other conditions. People may have similar symptoms related to eczema, psoriasis, allergies, or fungal infections. If you are concerned about your symptoms, or if they linger, it’s a good idea to check with a doctor.

Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 03/29/2018.

References

  • American Academy of Dermatology. Keratosis pilaris. Accessed 4/10/2018.
  • American Osteopathic College of Dermatology. Keratosis Pilaris. Accessed 4/10/2018.
  • Marqueling AL, Gilliam AE, Prendiville J, et al. Keratosis Pilaris Rubra: A Common but Underrecognized Condition. Arch Dermatol. 2006;142(12):1611-1616.

Cleveland Clinic is a non-profit academic medical center. Advertising on our site helps support our mission. We do not endorse non-Cleveland Clinic products or services. Policy