It can be alarming to discover little red bumps on your arms. Is it acne? Do you have the chicken pox? Could it be a rash?
Thankfully, those dots typically found on the backs of the arms—often called “chicken skin“—are usually harmless, as unsightly as they may be.
Known as keratosis pilaris, this skin condition is actually quite common and occurs more often in young children and women.
They often pop up during pregnancy and puberty.
The bumps stem from a buildup of keratin, which is the hard protein that protects skin from harmful substances and infection.
This buildup forms a scaly plug that blocks the opening of the hair follicle, which then causes those patches of rough, bumpy skin.
The condition may be genetic or occur along with other skin issues such as atopic dermatitis and can also develop on a person’s legs and even buttocks.
Unfortunately, there’s no real cure for keratosis pilaris, but there are ways to manage it.
First, contrary to what you might think, it’s not wise to scrub the area because it’ll only make the bumps worse. A serious towel rubdown will also irritate them, so be gentle.
“When you come out of the shower, pat yourself dry—don’t rub or scrub,” Janellen Smith, a dermatologist at UC Irvine Health, told the Huffington Post.
Moisturizing is key, but fragrant soaps aren’t ideal, so search for specialty lotions or creams that contain alpha hydroxy acid, lactic acid, salicylic acid or urea will help loosen and remove dead skin cells.
Creams derived from vitamin A (topical retinoids) are also useful, and will help promote cell turnover and prevent plugged hair follicles.
While the condition usually clears up on its own with over-the-counter remedies, those with a worsening case may want to consider consulting a dermatologist.
Laser treatment may even be an option, but in most cases keratosis pilaris is more of a cosmetic nuisance than a medical concern.