Keratosis Pilaris (KP)

  • Medical Author:
    Gary W. Cole, MD, FAAD

    Dr. Cole is board certified in dermatology. He obtained his BA degree in bacteriology, his MA degree in microbiology, and his MD at the University of California, Los Angeles. He trained in dermatology at the University of Oregon, where he completed his residency.

  • Medical Editor: William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR
    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.

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What are the signs and symptoms of keratosis pilaris?

Typically, keratosis pilaris patients present with a scattered, patchy rash made of very small red or tan bumps. Often, anywhere from 10 to hundreds of very small slightly rough bumps are scattered in an area. The affected area may have a fine, sandpaper-like texture. Some of the bumps may be slightly red or have an accompanying light-red halo indicating inflammation.

What does keratosis pilaris look like?
What does keratosis pilaris look like?

Sometimes, a small, coiled hair is trapped beneath the rough bump. Patients may complain of a rough texture and an irregular cosmetic appearance of the skin. The cheeks may appear pink, red, flushed, and be studded with very small (pinpoint) bumps.

Picture of keratosis pilaris
Keratosis pilaris may cause bumps on the backs of the upper arms, as seen here.

What types of doctors treat keratosis pilaris?

Most family physicians and pediatricians are able to diagnose and treat this condition. Occasionally, a dermatologist referral may be necessary.

How do doctors diagnose keratosis pilaris?

The diagnosis of keratosis pilaris is very straightforward and based on a typical skin appearance in areas like the upper arms. A family history of keratosis pilaris is also very helpful since there is a strong genetic component to the condition. The diagnosis is confirmed by the physician's clinical exam.

Are there any lab tests to help diagnose keratosis pilaris?

Since the appearance of keratosis pilaris is easily recognized, specific laboratory tests are not needed for the diagnosis. Skin biopsy (surgically taking a small piece of skin using local numbing medicine) may be useful in atypical or widespread cases.

What does keratosis pilaris look like under the microscope?

Microscopic examination of the body tissue by a pathologist or dermatopathologist under high magnification is called histopathology or pathology. Histopathology of keratosis pilaris shows mild thickening of the outer layer of skin (hyperkeratosis of the epidermis), increase in the special granular cells of the epidermis (hypergranulosis), and plugging of individual hair follicles. The upper dermis (layer of the skin below the epidermis) may have some microscopic inflammation called mild superficial perivascular lymphocytic inflammatory changes.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 7/28/2016

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