There’s good goosebumps and bad goosebumps. Good goosebumps are the kind you get when you hear your favorite song or right before you walk down the aisle on your wedding day. The bad kind is called keratosis pilaris (aka chicken skin, goose flesh, or sandpaper skin), and it’s a little more stubborn than a passing shiver.
If you’re in wedding prep mode, these little rough patches on the backs of your arms and legs can be incredibly frustrating—especially if they’re red and blotchy, or have caused visible hyperpigmentation.
But, there’s good news. First and foremost—keratosis pilaris is totally harmless, so you can stop panic-scrolling on WebMD. Second, while it is technically a chronic skin condition and cannot be “cured,” it’s extremely manageable, and there are ways to lessen its appearance and even see improvement over time.
Below, we spoke to skin experts to learn more about what keratosis pilaris is, how you can manage it for your wedding day, and what products to try first.
Meet the Expert
- Cula Svidzinski, MD, PhD, FAAD, is a board-certified dermatologist and medical director of the Skin of Color Center at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York.
- Tracy Evans, MD, MPH, FAAD, is a board-certified dermatologist and medical director of Pacific Skin and Cosmetic Dermatology in San Francisco.
- Renée Rouleau is a celebrity aesthetician with more than 30 years of industry experience, and founder of Renée Rouleau Skincare.
What is Keratosis Pilaris
Keratosis pilaris or follicular keratosis is a common condition caused by a buildup of keratin—the protein that makes up hair, skin, and nails—in hair follicles. Keratin generally means well (its whole job is to protect cells from damage), but keratosis pilaris is a classic example of “too much of a good thing.” When the opening of a hair follicle is clogged with keratin, it causes a scratchy, sometimes itchy “gooseflesh” appearance on the surface of your skin.
Keratosis pilaris doesn’t look the same for everyone, but its hallmarks are generally those rough, bumpy patches of skin on your arms, legs, thighs, buttocks, and sometimes even your face. “It’s not clear yet what causes the buildup, but it’s often associated with eczema or other genetic diseases,” says New York-based dermatologist Dr. Cula Svidzinski. “It can also trigger inflammation, which manifests as redness—or, for darker skin tones, hyperpigmentation.” And, while it does appear to be largely genetic, dry skin tends to exacerbate it.
How to Treat Keratosis Pilaris
Since keratosis pilaris is a chronic condition, there’s no real cure. “It’s very hard to ‘get rid of keratosis pilaris,’ but it can be minimized,” says San Francisco-based dermatologist Dr. Tracy Evans. “For many people, time is helpful. Younger patients have more intense KP, in general.”
But, if you’re still battling chicken skin and are looking for ways to smooth everything out (or at least reduce some of the redness) for your wedding day, there are plenty of effective options. “Improvement takes time,” notes Svidinski. “I recommend starting treatment as soon as possible. For brides, I recommend starting at least three to six months prior to the big day for best results."
Look for Products with Chemical Exfoliators
“Alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs), salicylic acid, and urea are gentle chemical exfoliators, often well-tolerated sensitive skin with the right formulation,” says Svidinski. “They cause controlled destruction of the top layer of the skin, leading to increased cell turnover and renewal—which results in smoother skin.” These acids can also help fade hyperpigmentation in darker skin tones over time.
Celebrity aesthetician Renée Rouleau recommends combining those products with physical exfoliation with a body scrub or dry brush. “The combination is key,” says Rouleau. “The physical exfoliant breaks through the dead skin on the surface, while the chemical exfoliant works to absorb deeper into the skin and speed up the natural exfoliation process.” To keep dry skin at bay, follow the process with a nourishing moisturizing lotion.
In-Office Chemical Peels
For more stubborn cases, at-home acids might not cut it. “In a dermatologist’s office, we can offer medical-grade skin peels,” says Evans, which work deeper within the skin to remove keratin buildup.
“Chemical peels may be done bi-weekly or monthly with dramatic results, and can be done within three weeks of your big day,” adds Svidinski. There are ways to do an at-home peel, but the results won’t be as impressive. If your KP is marked by hyperpigmentation, particularly colored skin, you’ll be in better hands with a licensed dermatologist that has experience working with your skin type.
The bumps and rough skin caused by keratosis pilaris are best addressed with chemical exfoliation, but redness may still persist. For this, Svidinski recommends in-office laser therapy like Pulsed Dye Lasers (PDL) which destroys visible, damaged blood vessels with heat. It is also great for rosacea, scars, spider veins, and port wine stains.
“Prescriptions that contain tretinoin (true retinoids) can be very helpful,” says Evans, as they help to prevent plugged follicles and can help to improve redness for a short period of time. The caveat is that they can lead to excessive dryness and irritation in more sensitive skin types. Evans recommends following retinoids with a ceramide cream like CeraVe Moisturizing Cream ($20), as ceramides help to restore and retain moisture.
If you don’t tolerate retinoids well, you still have options. “If you’re not pregnant or nursing, over the counter Differin is a great alternative and often well-tolerated in people with sensitive skin,” says Svidinski.
While not conclusive, some studies have suggested a link between keratosis pilaris and vitamin A deficiency. If your doctor clears it, you can look into adding a vitamin A supplement or multivitamin in the year leading up to your wedding. At best, it helps with the bumpy skin. At worst, you get a whole host of other benefits (a stronger immune system is always a perk).
As with all skin treatments, stay alert and watch for any side-effects. “Anyone with KP can benefit from treatments, but the key is to pay attention to how the skin reacts,” says Rouleau. “Like with anything, if severe redness or irritation occurs, then discontinue or at the very least, scale back on the usage and frequency.”
Advice for Your Wedding Day
First, a few don'ts. On the day of your wedding, and the days leading up to it, don’t wear tight clothing as it can trap dirt and sweat against the skin or cause friction that can irritate keratosis pilaris bumps. Too much sun is also a no-no. “All of the exfoliation may make the skin more susceptible to sunburn and irritation,” says Rouleau. Heat and hot water can also cause a flare up, so that morning, stick to warm water and only shower for 20 minutes or less to avoid drying out your skin. Last, but certainly not least, avoid using any new or harsh products. You never know how your skin will react.
As for do’s, while Svidinski wouldn’t recommend any strong physical exfoliation. A mild exfoliator like the First Aid Beauty Bump Eraser ($30) might be worth a try (as long as you’ve patch tested and used it with success in the past). And, since dry skin will make the keratosis pilaris more noticeable, a humidifier might be a nice addition to your bridal suite, in addition to your favorite glowy moisturizer (especially you, winter brides). Aveeno Daily Moisturizing Lotion ($11) is a good bet for most skin types—including those more prone to keratosis pilaris due to eczema or psoriasis. It is also unscented, so it won’t compete with your wedding perfume, of choice.
“If you still have redness or hyperpigmentation associated with KP on your wedding day, you can consider camouflaging it with make-up as a last resort,” says Svadinski. But remember, keratosis pilaris is extremely common, and while we want you to feel your most beautiful on your wedding day, it’s not likely that people will notice it the way you do. Be patient with yourself and your skin.
Best Products For Keratosis Pilaris
- AmLactin Daily Moisturizing Body Lotion ($12): This fragrance- and paraben-free moisturizer contains a 12% lactic acid solution to help exfoliate clogged hair follicles.
- Glytone KP Kit ($68): Glytone’s KP kit includes all the basics you’ll need to reduce bumpy skin—a chemical exfoliant, a physical exfoliant, and a great moisturizer.
- Eucerin Roughness Relief Lotion ($10): This body lotion contains urea for exfoliation and ceramides to restore moisture to parched skin.
- Skinfix Resurface+ AHA Renewing Cream ($48): This AHA and BHA blend unclogs keratin congestion and is gentle enough to be used daily.
- CeraVe SA Lotion for Rough and Bumpy Skin ($19): Salicylic acid (a common BHA) exfoliates rough skin, while niacinamide and vitamin D nourish the skin.
- Neostrata Resurface Lotion Plus ($55): This AHA lotion uses glycolic acid to slough away dead skin cells.
- Renée Rouleau Smoothing Body Serum ($48): Rouleau uses this resurfacing serum on her clients after exfoliation because of its soothing properties like aloe and green tea leaf extract.
Is keratosis pilaris common?
Does keratosis pilaris go away permanently?
Unfortunately not. Keratosis pilaris is a chronic skin condition. However, it's very manageable and can lessen with age.
Is keratosis pilaris contagious?
Definitely not. While the exact cause is not yet known, it's generally believed to be a genetic condition.