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4 Ingredients That Will Treat Your Keratosis Pilaris for Good

keratosis pillars

Keratosis refers to a build-up of skin
Pilaris refers to the hair portion of the skin
Which equals a build-up of skin in your hair follicles

Do you feel like the queen of bumpy skin? And read every Reddit thread on keratosis pilaris?

Or perhaps you’ve tried every DIY recipe under the sun and still suffer from unsightly bumps?

Keratosis pilaris is a common skin concern with no universally accepted treatment.

However, unclogging hair follicles and reducing inflammation can make a significant difference.

So join us as we decode this treatment together.

Helping you to transform your skin from rough and bumpy to smooth and glowy.

What Causes Keratosis Pillaris?

There are several theories on why some people are more susceptible to keratosis pilaris (KP) than others.

Keratosis pilaris occurs due to a build-up of keratinised dead skin cells within hair follicles that block the opening of the follicle.

Factors contributing to this condition include genetic predisposition (50-70% have a family history).

There are also connections to filaggrin gene mutations that comp[promise the skin’s barrier function.

Additionally, this condition is linked to skin conditions like dry skin, eczema, ichthyosis, and various health concerns such as asthma, hay fever, hypothyroidism, Cushing’s syndrome, diabetes, down syndrome, and obesity.

Low humidity in dry air can also make conditions worse.

Nutritional deficiencies, particularly vitamins A and C and essential fatty acids can also contribute to skin changes typical of keratosis pilaris.

It is common in children and adolescents, and it peaks during puberty and is often resolved by adulthood.

Genetic factors lead to the accumulation of skin cells, resulting in the rough bumps characteristic of keratosis pilaris.

Additionally, there is an association between keratosis pilaris and filaggrin gene mutations, commonly found in individuals with dermatitis or eczema, possibly contributing to its manifestation.

If you want to gain a deeper understanding of this tricky condition, our expert guide on keratosis pillaris has you covered.

What Does Keratosis Pilaris Look Like

Before correctly treating this condition, it’s essential to understand what it looks like on your skin.

Small, Bumpy Skin: At a glance, it appears as small, rough, and sometimes raised areas on the skin, which can resemble goosebumps. They’re commonly found on the upper arms, thighs, cheeks, buttocks, and sometimes under the eyes.

Plugged Hair Follicles: If you were to examine keratosis pillaris under a microscope, it would show that keratin, a skin protein, forms small plugs that block the hair follicles, and it is these plugs that cause the raised bumps on the skin.

Rough Texture: The affected skin feels rough to the touch due to the accumulation of these keratin plugs.

Redness and Irritation: In some cases, mild inflammation might occur around the affected hair follicles, leading to redness and potential irritation in the affected areas.

Understanding how keratosis pilaris appears on your skin is essential for effectively identifying and treating the condition.

keratosis pillaris on a women's legs

How to Treat Keratosis Pilaris?

Now that you better understand how it shows up in your skin, you can see that you require a three-pronged approach to treat it correctly.

  1. Treat the inflammation: Because there is a direct correlation between eczema and keratosis pilaris, there may be inflammation in your skin. So, it is essential to treat the inflammation to keep your pH balanced and skin barrier function intact.
  2. Keep your skin moisturised and hydrated. Gentle moisturising is vital; this can be achieved using a moisturiser with essential skin-identical ingredients like ceramides and lipids naturally found in your skin; these will replenish what is missing and keep your skin soft, supple and bump-free.
  3. Break down the Keratin. The build-up of keratin blocks the follicle, causing tiny bumps. So, it is essential to break down this keratin using ingredients like urea and gentle alpha hydroxy acids. There is one exception here; however, avoid using alpha hydroxy acids on your skin if irritated, as this will only inflame your skin further.
  4. Avoid keratosis pilaris popping, as it can scar your skin.

4 Ingredients to Treat Keratosis Pilaris

#1: Urea for keratosis pilaris

Urea serves as a vital multitasking ingredient for treating keratosis pilaris. At concentrations exceeding 10%, it acts as a natural exfoliator, breaking down the keratin bonds between skin cells and exfoliating the top layer of your skin.

This dual action allows deep moisture to penetrate the lower layers of your skin, encouraging cell turnover whilst gently shedding dead skin cells. Urea also has powerful humectant properties, drawing moisture into the deeper layers of your skin.

Urea offers a rare combination of exfoliation and moisturisation, providing a unique and effective skincare solution for keratosis pillaris.

#2: Alpha hydroxy acids 

Lactic acid, an alpha hydroxy acid, boasts powerful moisturising properties, effectively hydrating and smoothing the skin. It’s a gentle treatment option for addressing keratosis pilaris, especially around the eyes.

If you have persistent keratosis pilaris, look for formulations that contain glycolic acid. This study [1] found that chemical peels containing 70% glycolic acid were applied to participants’ skin for 5 to 7 minutes, significantly reducing the appearance of their keratosis pilaris.

#3: Salicylic acid

Salicylic acid acts as a natural exfoliant; it can effectively penetrate the hair follicle, breaking down that build-up of keratin. However, salicylic acid lacks moisturising properties, so using it in a cream-based formula is advisable.

In a 12-week trial by Kootiratrakarn et al. (2), lactic acid at 10% and salicylic acid at 5% in cream significantly improved skin moisturisation and reduced bumps at weeks 4, 8, and 12.

Use Salicylic and Urea in Combination

Novick presents a distinct protocol in a referenced paper(3) to address keratosis pilaris by utilising a blend of keratolytic agents. The approach involves gently massaging a combination of 2% salicylic acid and 20% urea cream onto the skin for five seconds in the initial treatment week.

This application time can gradually increase to help the skin adapt and avoid excessive dryness; upon improvement of the keratosis pilaris, Novick advises long-term treatment with a 20% urea cream alone.

#4: Topical retinoids 

Retinoids are essential ingredients that promote skin cell turnover and smooth the top layer of your skin while breaking down keratin around the hair follicle.

In a study [4]. Involving 33 patients, a topical retinoid at a concentration of 0.05%, applied nightly, resulted in the patients experiencing smoother skin within two weeks, with resolution of keratosis pilaris occurring after four to eight weeks.

However, despite their multitasking properties, retinoids can lead to skin irritation and flakiness if not followed by proper moisturisation, especially in those prone to sensitivity or eczema.

To conclude. The naked truth

Understanding the multifaceted nature of keratosis pilaris will help you understand why you may need to take a comprehensive approach to your treatment.

Effectively managing this skin condition involves addressing inflammation, preserving skin moisture, and targeting the build-up of keratin within hair follicles.

Maintaining a balanced pH and ensuring the integrity of your skin barrier is important to alleviate inflammation.

Also, gentle moisturisation, particularly with products containing ceramides, will help keep your skin soft, supple, and less prone to bumps.

Breaking down keratin is a crucial aspect of managing keratosis pilaris. Urea, with its dual exfoliating and moisturising properties, stands out as a powerful treatment option, aiding in shedding dead skin cells and encouraging cell turnover.

Alongside urea, using alpha hydroxy acids such as lactic acid and glycolic acid, when introduced gradually, can significantly improve your skin’s moisturisation and texture.

Furthermore, the use of topical retinoids is essential in helping you boost cell turnover and smooth your skin’s surface; whilst these ingredients are effective, it is essential to note that they require careful application and moisturisation to prevent irritation, mainly if you are prone to sensitivity or eczema.

Emphasising a gentler, holistic approach will safeguard your skin’s protective barrier while effectively managing this skin condition, transforming your skin from rough and bumpy to a smoother, healthier state.


1. Epidermal permeability barrier in the treatment of keratosis pilaris

2. Continuing Education Activity around Keratosis pillaris.

3. Practical management of widespread, atypical keratosis pillaris

4. Tazarotene 0.05% cream for the treatment of keratosis pilaris.

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