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The Best Moisturizers for Keratosis Pilaris

How to fight those unsightly bumps with the proper moisturizing treatments

Published on 02/20/2019
Keratosis PilarisExfoliatorsMoisturizersWesternNaturopathy
 pink moisturizer on finger for keratosis pilaris

Have you encountered patients that have tiny, red bumps on the upper arms, cheeks, legs, and buttocks? The culprit could be Keratosis Pilaris, a common genetic skin condition that is often overlooked. It is sometimes colloquially called “Chicken Skin” or “Goose Pimples” by many who suffer from this skin disorder. The good news is that Keratosis Pilaris is a completely harmless and manageable issue. Simple over the counter moisturizers can improve the texture and appearance of these tiny bumps.

What is Keratosis Pilaris?

Keratosis Pilaris, also shortened and called KP, is an inherited skin disorder of the hair follicle.[1] The hair follicle becomes plugged with keratin, a waxy protein substance that is naturally made by the body.[2] The hair in the follicle is essentially blocked by the keratin plug, bulging out and creating its distinctive bumpy appearance. It is most commonly seen on the upper arms, thighs, cheeks, and buttocks. The texture of Keratosis Pilaris feels like sandpaper when touched. For most people, the only issue with Keratosis Pilaris is how unsightly it is. There are often no other symptoms besides cosmetic ones, although some people report slight itching and dryness to the areas affected.[1]

Keratosis Pilaris Treatment

Treatment options for keratosis pilaris include emollient and keratolytic agents.[3]

  • Emollients are agents that help moisturize and soothe the dryness and itching that often accompanies keratosis pilaris.[4]
  • Keratolytics are substances that help remove the buildup of the keratin protein within the hair follicle.
  • Creamy moisturizers are especially good to help with the drying effects the condition causes.[5]

Keratolytics are often different types of acids or other agents that help induce the breakdown of keratin and dead skin cells. These include Alpha Hydroxy Acid (AHA), Beta Hydroxy Acid (BHA), Urea, Lactic Acid, and Salicylic Acid. Most commonly, a moisturizer with Urea or Lactic Acid is often used to treat Keratosis Pilaris as both an emollient and a keratolytic. Some people also use topical retinoids to remove the bumps as they promote high cell turnover, making the skin smoother.[5]

Moisturizers for Keratosis Pilaris

Ultimately, the goal with Keratosis Pilaris treatment is to use a moisturizer along with a keratolytic. The best scenario is when the moisturizer contains the keratolytic too. This way, both the dryness and the rough bumps are addressed at the same time. There are many moisturizers that contain various kinds of keratolytics that are readily available over the counter at many stores. These include drug stores, grocery stores, online and department stores. As far as moisturizing goes, it is best to use an oil-free, thick cream or ointment instead of a lotion.[6] The American Academy of Dermatology recommends the following when using a moisturizer for keratosis pilaris treatment:

  • Put on the moisturizer after every shower or bath
  • Apply the moisturizer within a 5-minute timeframe after bathing, while the skin is still slightly damp
  • Continue moisturizing throughout the day. 2-3 times is recommended. Using a gentle massaging motion when applying is beneficial[6]
Table 1. Types of products and ingredients used for keratosis pilaris
Types of Agents to Treat Keratosis Pilaris Additional Information About Agent


It is best to use moisturizers that are oil-free and thick in texture as they help hydrate the skin.

Alpha Hydroxy Acid

Using a moisturizer with Alpha Hydroxy Acid (AHA) in it is helpful with both the moisture and breakdown of keratin and dead cells at the same time.

Example: Glycolic acid, Lactic acid

Beta Hydroxy Acid

Using a moisturizer with Beta Hydroxy Acid (BHA) in it is helpful with both the moisture and breakdown of keratin and dead cells at the same time. Beta Hydroxy acids are better at breaking down clogged pores, but can also be more irritating to the skin.

Example: Salicylic acid

What Moisturizer Should You Choose for Keratosis Pilaris?

The great news is that nearly any formulation you choose may help improve Keratosis Pilaris. The most popular choices are moisturizers that also contain a keratolytic such as urea, lactic acid, or salicylic acid.[5] No matter which one a patient chooese to pick, they will be well on the way to  reducing bumps and promoting better hydration. The more consistent they are in their treatment regimen, the more effective the outcome will be.

Is There a Cure for Keratosis Pilaris?

Unfortunately, there is no cure for keratosis pilaris. It can be well managed, however, with consistent use of moisturizers and keratolytics as mentioned above. These products can hydrate the skin and decrease the bumpy texture. With this skin condition, the key to treatment really is consistency. It is what keeps the unsightly appearance, itching, and rough texture at bay.


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