Keratosis Pilaris – Causes, symptoms and treatment for chicken skin

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What is Keratosis Pilaris?

Keratosis Pilaris (also known as Keratosis Follicularis, Lichen Pilaris and Follicular Keratosis) is a non-contagious skin disorder.

An overproduction of keratin blocks the hair follicles and small bumps form. This causes the outermost layers of skin to thicken, especially on the upper arms and thighs but also on the buttocks and on the face. Small pimples develop and skin feels rough and uneven − hence why Keratosis Pilaris is often referred to as ‘chicken skin’.

Small skin-colored, red or brown pimples appear on the skin.

A genetic condition, young people are particularly affected: the first symptoms of Keratosis Pilaris usually appear during childhood and are very common in adolescents. Chicken skin can clear up as we age, or it can keep coming back.

Sadly, there is no known cure for Keratosis Pilaris, but symptoms can be alleviated by regular skincare using appropriate oils, peels and skin creams

What are the symptoms of Keratosis Pilaris?

Small pimples on the skin can be a symptom of Keratosis Pilaris
Keratosis Pilaris can cause stress

The symptoms of Keratosis Pilaris are small pimples which tend to be skin colored or red on light skin and brown on dark skin. They appear on the arms, thighs, buttocks or the face and are sometimes compared to ‘goose bumps’. If these symptoms occur on other parts of the body, you should consult a doctor or dermatologist.

The pin-head sized bumps (keratoses) are harmless and do not normally cause any pain. When the symptoms appear on parts of the body that are clearly visible, Keratosis Pilaris can cause issues around self-esteem and what starts as a cosmetic problem can become a psychological one.

Dry skin is particularly susceptible to ‘chicken skin’. The symptoms of Keratosis Pilaris worsen in conditions of low humidity (e.g. the winter) and tend to improve when humidity is higher (e.g. the summer). Sometimes, Keratosis Pilaris is also associated with Atopic Dermatitis.

What causes chicken skin?

The exact causes are not known but, as a large percentage of those affected by chicken skin have family members who also have the condition (if one twin has Keratosis Pilaris the other one usually has it too), it is highly likely that it is genetic and inherited.

What we do know is that the bumps form as a result of an overproduction of keratin. Keratin is the protein that gives body tissue its stability and is the building block of our hair and nails. In cases of Keratosis Pilaris, the excess of keratin produced collects in, and blocks, the hair follicles. Skin thickens as a result and bumps turn into hard plugs.

What can you do to treat Keratosis Pilaris?

Thorough daily moisturizing can help alleviate symptoms

Even though there is no cure for chicken skin, symptoms can be alleviated with a suitable skincare routine and other measures (such as diet).

The first step to managing keratinized skin is thorough personal hygiene. When symptoms are mild they can be considerably improved by regularly applying moisturizer.

Skin lotions with Urea (one of skin’s own Natural Moisturizing Factors) are particularly suitable for daily skin care. Urea binds moisture in the skin and prevents keratinization. For best results use lotions or creams that are fragrance- and colorant-free and apply the product several times a day to the affected area of the body.

Eucerin UreaRepair PLUS 10% Urea Lotion delivers immediate + 48h relief for very dry, rough skin

Eucerin UreaRepair PLUS 10% Urea Lotion has been specially formulated for the intensive care of dry skin and is often used as a treatment for Keratosis Pilaris. The formula, which combines Urea with other Natural Moisturizing Factors and Ceramide (a valuable skin lipid), instantly relieves dry skin. It helps to exfoliate dead skin cells and makes skin smooth and supple.

Extensive clinical and dermatological studies on dry skin prove the effectiveness of the product in treating both dry skin and Keratosis Pilaris. Research indicated a significant reduction of dry symptoms with daily use.1

  1. Treatment of Xerosis with a topical formulation containing Glyceryl Glucoside, Natural Moisturizing Factors and Ceramide; Weber et al., JCAD 2012s


Eucerin UreaRepair PLUS 10% Urea Lotion delivers intense moisturization

A skincare routine to help alleviate symptoms of Keratosis Pilaris


Thoroughly clean the affected area once or twice a day with a soap-free product such as Eucerin UreaRepair ORIGINAL 5% Urea Washfluid.


Regular gentle exfoliation of the top skin layer of skin will help to loosen and remove any ‘plugs’ which may have formed. Sea salt, products containing fruits acids and even milk can help. Skin peels – especially those on the face – should be used sparingly and not too frequently so as not to irritate sensitive skin or worsen the condition.


Daily moisturizing with a Urea-based skin lotion such as Eucerin UreaRepair PLUS 10% Urea Lotion. Massage the lotion gently into skin until completely absorbed. For best results, the lotion should be left to work overnight. Try covering the affected part of the body with cling film to increase the benefits of the moisturizer.

Creams with Vitamin A (Retinoids) or oils with Vitamin E (e.g. coconut oil or olive oil) can also help to alleviate symptoms.

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What else can you do to treat chicken skin?

It’s a good idea to try out lots of different ways to treat Keratosis Pilaris to find out what works for you and what doesn’t. People with Keratosis Pilaris have found that the following can help:

Exfoliation can help with chicken skin, and saunas and steam baths make exfoliation easier
A balanced diet rich in vitamins and nutrients is important for healthy skin

Saunas and steam baths

These help to soften skin making it easier to exfoliate and remove dead skin cells.


People who experience Keratosis Pilaris should be sure to eat a healthy diet. It can also help to avoid foods that can trigger allergies such as gluten, or to have yourself professional tested for allergies to see if you have any intolerances.

You should also drink at least two liters of water a day and avoid unhealthy options such as sugary and fizzy drinks.

Although there is no known cure for Keratosis Pilaris, an appropriate skincare routine and regular moisturizing with a Urea-rich product such as Eucerin UreaRepair PLUS 10% Urea Lotion will help alleviate symptoms and smooth skin.

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