So many people suffer from the following problem yet have no idea what it is. Red, rough bumps on the back of your upper arms, face (especially in children), thighs, and even backside are actually a skin condition called keratosis pilaris. According to Paula Begoun:
Keratosis pilaris has a few different forms: It can range from pink to red bumps on the cheeks to small red bumps that aren’t irritated, to pimple-like bumps that are inflamed and red. Overall, regardless of the type, these bumpy rough spots are clogged pores where skin cells have become hardened inside the pore and inflammation occurs.
So how do you treat keratosis pilaris? In her book Simple Skin Beauty Dr. Ellen Marmur offers quite a number of solutions for keratosis pilaris, which is a form of eczema, along with some interesting insights into this condition (pages 219-220):
Instead of round bumps, dry skin can make triangular, pyramid-shaped bumps, or accuminate papules. The keratin on top is shaped like a sharp spike which is why the skin is so rough. There’s no good reason why these bumps are triangular while others elsewhere are round. … Like most eczema, the genetic condition stems from dry, sensitive skin and tends to get worse in the winter, when it’s cold and dry. Ironically, most people with KP tend to do just the opposite of what they should to treat the condition. They avoid moisturizing the area (thinking it’s a form of acne), when what’s really needed is the thickest cream possible.
The best prevention is slathering on a rich cream or ointment (one that contains occlusive emollients such as petrolatum, lanolin, and mineral oil) regularly to moisturize and protect the skin. You can’t apply too much. It will help keep the condition in check and may help it go away. … When skin is chronically dehydrated, it tries to heal itself and the natural pattern of exfoliation is disrupted. For this reason, you can use a loofah or body brush to gently scrub off the dead skin cells. I also recommend over-the-counter lotions such as Lac-Hydrin or AmLactin to be applied once or twice a day. They contain lactic acid (a great gentle exfoliant for sensitive skin) in a moisturizing base. Another effective treatment is retinoid lotion, which regulates keratinocyte turnover and helps slough off the heaped-up, pointy dead skin cells. To accelerate the exfoliation process, a dermatologist can do microdermabrasion and a light chemical peel followed by a deep moisturizing mask. Once the area is smooth, a field of tiny red dots will be left behind. They will fade somewhat though probably not completely on their own. A pulsed dye laser treatment can make the redness go away faster.
Paula Begoun has a different solution for this problem:
Exfoliation to unclog pores is at the top of the list of treatments. Alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs, active ingredients would be lactic or glycolic acid) can help exfoliate skin cells, but these only work on the surface. AHAs can’t get inside the pore to dislodge the plug of skin and sebum.
To get to the root of the problem you need a beta hydroxy acid (BHA) product with the active ingredient salicylic acid and a pH low enough for exfoliation to occur. One other interesting aspect of BHA is that it has antimicrobial properties so it kills the bacteria that may be making matters worse. Plus, because salicylic acid is related to aspirin (aspirin is acetyl salicylic acid) it also has anti-inflammatory properties. Salicylic acid is a brilliant answer to eliminating these red bumps.
And here is even more advice, this time from the May 2011 issue of Allure:
It’s better to use a chemical exfoliant than a physical one. That means washes and lotions with alpha hydroxy acids. Then use a hydrocortisone cream to reduce the redness, and the bumps should clear up in three weeks.
In the end, no matter whose advice you follow there are plenty of solution available for treating this common skin issue.
Further reading and products:
Keratosis Pilaris: Solutions for Bumps on the Back of Arms – Paula Begoun
Though I have never tried this product I thought I would mention it since it was created just to treat keratosis pilaris: DERMAdoctor KP Duty
Allure recommends Glytone keratosis pilaris products
A drugstore moisturizer you can try is AmLactin