Healthdirect Free Australian health advice you can count on.

Medical problem? Call 1800 022 222. If you need urgent medical help, call triple zero immediately

healthdirect Australia is a free service where you can talk to a nurse or doctor who can help you know what to do.

People suffering from keratosis pilaris should wash their hands using a mild soap and warm water.

People suffering from keratosis pilaris should wash their hands using a mild soap and warm water.
beginning of content

Keratosis pilaris

Keratosis pilaris is a common, mostly harmless skin condition that causes small, rough, white or reddish bumps or patches on the skin. While it can occur at any age, keratosis pilaris most commonly affects children and adolescents. The symptoms often improve and then disappear entirely early in adult life.

What causes keratosis pilaris?

Keratosis pilaris is caused by the build-up of a skin protein called keratin. Excess keratin can block hair follicles or pores in the skin, forming small, hard bumps. The reason for the build-up of keratin is unknown, but it often occurs alongside other skin conditions, such as dermatitis. In most cases it is a genetic condition that runs in families..

Keratosis pilaris signs and symptoms

Keratosis pilaris usually results in small, hard, flesh-coloured or white lumps, which can have an acne-like or rough appearance. The bumps, which can pepper the skin, are commonly found on areas of dry skin on the upper arms, thighs, chest and, sometimes, the face. The condition doesn't usually cause any pain. You may find affected skin becomes sandpaper-like. If the bumps cause itching or irritation, they may become red and slightly inflamed and cause scarring.

Keratosis pilaris diagnosis and treatment

There are no tests for keratosis pilaris. Instead diagnosis is usually made after examining the skin. Keratosis pilaris is often a mild condition that doesn't require medical treatment and usually disappears by the age 30.

Below are a number of things you can do to help reduce your symptoms:

  • Try not to scratch the bumps.
  • Treat your skin gently and avoid using harsh chemicals, which can dry out your skin.
  • Wash using a mild soap and warm, rather than hot, water.
  • Gently pat or blot your skin dry and follow up by applying a soothing moisturising cream that contains lanolin, petroleum jelly or glycerine.
  • Avoid friction from tight clothes.

A variety of medicated creams, some of which are available over the counter, may also help to relieve symptoms. The creams contain ingredients, such as retinoids (vitamin A), urea, alpha-hydroxy acid, lactic acid or salicylic acid, that help to break down the excess keratin and remove dead skin. However, these chemicals can be harsh and cause dry skin and irritation, so they may not be suitable for children.

Laser therapy can be used to successfully treat keratoris pilaris that has become very red and inflamed.

For more information on treatment options, or if symptoms are causing you or your child anxiety or discomfort, talk to your doctor.

Last reviewed: August 2017

Need more information?

These trusted information partners have more on this topic.

Check your symptoms Find a health service

Healthdirect 24hr 7 days a week hotline

24 hour health advice and information you can count on

1800 022 222

Government Accredited with over 140 information partners

We are a government-funded service, providing quality, approved health information

Australian Government, health department logo ACT Government logo New South Wales government, health department logo Northen Territory Government logo Government of South Australia, health department logo Tasmanian government logo Government of Western Australia, health department logo
Feedback