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Keratosis pilaris

5-minute read

Key facts

  • Keratosis pilaris is a common and harmless skin condition.
  • It often affects children and adolescents.
  • It usually goes away completely.
  • Treating your skin gently and using skin creams can help ease your symptoms.

What is keratosis pilaris?

Keratosis pilaris is a common, mostly harmless skin condition. It causes small, rough, bumps or patches on your skin. The bumps can be reddish or white in colour.

Keratosis pilaris is most common in children and adolescents. Sometimes adults can also have keratosis pilaris.

The symptoms usually get better over time. Then they disappear completely early in adult life.

What are the symptoms of keratosis pilaris?

Keratosis pilaris usually results in small, hard lumps on your skin. They can be normal skin colour, reddish or white.

Sometimes the bumps can look and feel rough. Sometimes they are acne-like in appearance.

The bumps are scattered all over your skin. They are often found on areas of dry skin. This can be on your:

  • upper arms
  • thighs
  • chest
  • face
  • back

The affected skin may feel like sandpaper.

The bumps cause sometimes cause itching or irritation. If this happens, they may become red and slightly inflamed. This can lead to scars on your skin.

Many bumps also contain an ingrown hair.

Photo showing keratosis pilaris on the forearm.
Keratosis pilaris is a common, but mostly harmless skin condition that causes small, rough, white or reddish bumps on the skin.

What causes keratosis pilaris?

Keratosis pilaris is caused by the build-up of a skin protein called keratin. Too much keratin can block your hair follicles or pores in your skin. This can lead to small, hard bumps on your skin.

The reason for the build-up of keratin is not known. It often happens at the same time as other skin conditions, such as dermatitis. In most cases it's a genetic condition that runs in families.

Keratosis pilaris is more common in winter. This is because your skin tends to be drier.

When should I see my doctor?

If your symptoms are causing you anxiety or discomfort, talk to your doctor.

They can give you some options for treating keratosis pilaris.

How is keratosis pilaris diagnosed?

Your doctor will examine your skin and ask about your symptoms.

How is keratosis pilaris treated?

Keratosis pilaris is often a mild condition. It usually does not need any medical treatment. It usually goes away by the age of 30 years.


You can do things to ease your symptoms such as:

  • Try not to scratch the bumps.
  • Avoid wearing tight clothes. These can rub your skin and cause irritation.

When bathing, try not to use harsh chemicals. These can dry out the skin. Some other things you can do are:

  • use a mildly abrasive or exfoliating sponge or scrub on the affected areas — this helps to break down some of the lumps
  • wash using a mild soap and warm water
  • do not wash in very hot water
  • follow up by using a soothing moisturising cream — containing lanolin, petroleum jelly or glycerine

Medicines and other treatments

A variety of medicated creams can help ease your symptoms. Some are available over-the-counter. Which means that you do not need a prescription.

The creams contain ingredients that help get rid of the keratin build-up. They also help remove dead skin. The names of these chemicals are:

  • retinoids (vitamin A)
  • urea
  • alpha-hydroxy acid
  • lactic acid
  • salicylic acid

However, these chemicals can sometimes be harsh. They can also cause dry skin and irritation. They may not be suitable for children.

Your doctor or pharmacist can give you advice about which creams to use.

Laser therapy can be used to treat keratosis pilaris. It can be helpful if your skin is very red and inflamed.

Resources and support

You can find health information about skin conditions in other languages here.

You can also call the healthdirect helpline on 1800 022 222 (known as NURSE-ON-CALL in Victoria). A registered nurse is available to speak with 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: November 2023

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