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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Is keratosis pilaris curable?

There is no available cure, miracle pill, or universally effective treatment for keratosis pilaris. It sometimes clears completely by itself without treatment.

Is keratosis pilaris contagious?

Keratosis pilaris is not contagious. It is not an infection and is not caused by a fungus, bacterium, or virus. People do not give it to someone else through skin contact and do not catch it from anyone else. Some people are simply more prone to developing keratosis pilaris because of genetics and skin type.

What are possible complications of keratosis pilaris?

Complications are infrequent since it's primarily a cosmetic skin condition. However, temporary skin discoloration called post-inflammatory hypopigmentation (lighter than the regular skin color) or hyperpigmentation may occur after the inflamed, red bumps have improved or after a temporary flare. Permanent scarring may rarely occur from picking, overly aggressive treatments, or other inflammation.

Does diet have anything to do with keratosis pilaris?

Diet does not affect keratosis pilaris. Vitamin A deficiency may cause symptoms similar to keratosis pilaris, but it's not a known cause of keratosis pilaris.

What is the treatment for keratosis pilaris?

Many treatment options and skin-care recipes are available for controlling the signs of keratosis pilaris. Many patients have very good temporary improvement following a regular skin-care program of lubrication. As a general rule of thumb, treatment needs to be continuous. Since there is no available cure or universally effective treatment for keratosis pilaris, the list of potential lotions and creams is long. It is important to keep in mind that as with any condition, no therapy is uniformly effective in all people. Complete clearing may not be possible. In some cases, keratosis pilaris may also improve or clear spontaneously without any treatment.

General measures to prevent excessive skin dryness, such as using mild soapless cleansers, are recommended. Frequent skin lubrication is the mainstay of treatment for nearly all cases.

Mild cases of keratosis pilaris may be improved with basic over-the-counter moisturizers such as Cetaphil or Lubriderm lotions. Additional available therapeutic options for more difficult cases of keratosis pilaris include lactic-acid lotions (AmLactin, Lac-Hydrin), alpha-hydroxy-acid lotions (Glytone, glycolic body lotions), urea cream (Carmol 10, Carmol 20, Carmol 40, Urix 40), salicylic acid (Salex lotion), and topical steroid creams (triamcinolone 0.1%).

The affected area should be washed once or twice a day with a gentle wash like Cetaphil or Dove. Lotions should be gently massaged into the affected area two to three times a day. Irritated or abraded skin should be treated only with bland moisturizers until the inflammation resolves.

Occasionally, physicians may prescribe a short seven- to 10-day course of a medium-potency, emollient-based topical steroid cream once or twice a day for inflamed red areas.

Many treatments have been used in keratosis pilaris without consistent results. As there is no miraculous cure or universally effective treatment for keratosis pilaris, it is important to proceed with caution and lower expectations.

Because keratosis pilaris is generally a chronic condition requiring long-term maintenance, most therapies would require repeated or long-term use for optimum results.

Mild cleansers and lotions for sensitive skin: Wash daily, and apply lotion twice a day.

  • Cetaphil
  • Dove
  • Eucerin
  • Curel

Potent moisturizers for home treatment: Use once or twice a day.

  • Lactic-acid lotions (AmLactin, Lac-Hydrin)
  • Alpha-hydroxy-acid lotions (Glytone, Citrix glycolic body lotion 15%)
  • Urea creams (Carmol 10, Carmol 20, Carmol 40, Urix 40)
  • Salicylic-acid lotions (Salex 6%)
  • Compounded 3% salicylic acid in 20% urea cream
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 2/23/2015
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