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Whether you call it chicken skin, keratosis pilaris or 'KP' as some beauty brands are referring to it now, you'll be familiar with the little red bumps that can appear on the back of your arms and on your thighs. “ Keratosis pilaris is a very common skin problem and I see a lot of it in clinic,” says expert dermatologist Dr Sam Bunting . “As many as 40 per cent of the population suffer from it. It’s a genetic disorder (autosomal dominant, which means that if one of your parents has it, you have a 50 per cent chance of getting it)."
What causes chicken skin on arms?
Keratosis pilaris occurs when there is a buildup of keratin, a hard protein that protects skin from infection and harmful external substances. The keratin forms a plug that blocks the opening of the hair follicle, resulting in patches of bumpy skin. “It’s those annoying rough little bumps and redness that typically appears on the backs of the upper arms and thighs in a symmetrical pattern,” says Dr Sam. “The skin cells don’t exfoliate properly and collect in the top of the hair follicle, creating roughness. You might get it all over your arms, thighs and cheeks. It is associated with atopic eczema and a dry skin condition called ichthyosis vulgaris.”
British Skin Foundation
Chicken skin treatment
Unfortunately, there is no universally accepted treatment for chicken skin, though it is largely accepted that unclogging the hair follicles and reducing inflammation can help to make a difference.
Look for lotions with glycolic acid or lactic acid in, advises Dr Sam. "Start slowly and use on alternate days at night," she says. "If it sits okay with your skin, after a few days start increasing your use to both morning and evening. Do this for two weeks and once the skin is smooth, you should be able to maintain it by using gloves and glycolic moisturiser every second or third day."
Supplements can help too. The rash of KP can be a sign of vitamin A deficiency so supplementing this could ease the appearance of the bumps. "Vitamin A helps to regulate cell production and prevent a build-up of cells," says pharmacist and Victoria Health co-founder Shabir Daya. Shabir recommends Vitamin A by HealthAid , £8.99, which provides the nutrient in a soft gel capsule within a base of fish and soyabean oil, so it's readily absorbed by the body.
If the redness caused by KP is your bugbear, this is sadly not treatable with products. Dr Sam suggests masking it with self-tan if it bothers you. We've also heard of people using redness-masking makeup buy Rosalique to tone down the rosy-hue of KP.
Here's Dr Sam's advice to help keep the bumps at bay along with our edit of products that we think work wonders on chicken skin.
In the shower treatments for chicken skin
Dr Sam suggests using a non-drying shower gel like this one from Ameliorate. "Formulated with natural oils that are rich sources of essential fatty acids, this nourishing shower cream replenishes and enhances the skin's natural lipid barrier to prevent moisture loss and strengthen damaged skin," she says. "It's soap-free and works to balance pH levels. After just a few uses skin is left feeling silky-soft and smooth."
This combines the benefits of a chemical peel and micro-dermabrasion into one very fine scrub. The scrub itself is a quite ugly grey colour, but we can forgive it for its appearance thanks to how smooth it makes our skin feel after washing it off. It's infused with 10 per cent glycolic to exfoliate skin and improve texture, while bisabolol extract helps to calm and soothe skin
“Get some exfoliating gloves or a loofah and use once a day regularly,” advises Dr Bunting. “I particularly like these ones."
This budget buy is loved by beauty editors far and wide for its ability to gently exfoliate the skin with salicylic acid, wash away impurities and strengthen the skin barrier with ceramides. It can be used on the face and body and is as no-frills as you'd expect from Cerave – unscented and uncomplicated. Follow with the Cerave SA Smoothing Cream , £12, for the full routine.
For a plastic-free solution to chicken skin, keep Glossier's exfoliating bar in the shower. It works to banish dead skin and dryness and has that unmistakable Glossier scent – clean, fresh and ever-so-slightly soapy with orange blossom and neroli. It uses finely milled biodegradable bamboo powder too scrub the top layer, plus sunflower seed oil and aloe leaf juice to moisture so your skin doesn't feel dry or like you've tackled it with a scouring pad. It fits perfectly in the palm of your hand in the shower so it doesn't go sliding out of your palm and onto the floor, and is vegan too. People love this for banishing leftover fake tan too, which is always handy.
Body lotions for chicken skin
Dr Sam's lotion of choice, this includes 15 per cent glycolic acid which gets to work on the rough skin associated with KP.
As you’d expect from Dr Sam, this is brimming with do-good ingredients including bakuchiol , niacinamide and lactic acid, which work together to smooth and exfoliate dead skin and soothe the appearance of uneven texture. It’s silky and lightweight and absorbs quickly without leaving behind a greasy feel.
We're used to using exfoliating pads on our faces to slough away dead skin and these pads work in the same way for the body. They're designed to clear body acne as well as ease KP with a blend of glycolic, salicylic and lactic acids, squalane , bakuchiol and pineapple enzymes to eat away dead skin cells. Just massage in a circular motion twice a week until the pad is dry of product.
First Aid Beauty KP Smoothing Body Lotion, £26
This doesn't launch in the UK until August but we've had a sneak peek and have been impressed by how silky it made our arms. It combines ten per cent lactic acid to resurface the top layer of the skin, with urea to improve the appearance of dry skin, colloidal oatmeal to calm distressed skin and ceramides to strengthen the skin barrier and make it supple. It's fragrance-free, but does have that slightly chemically acid smell you'll be familiar with if you use face peels.
This tub of tropically-scented joy is made from fruit AHAs to soften your skin and smooth out rough patches, making light work of chicken skin on the backs of arms and legs. It has vitamin C in the mix too to visibly brighten and diminish the appearance of dark spots. "It made my skin much smoother and softer thanks to antioxidant vitamin C, exfoliating fruit AHAs and moisturising cupacu butter," confirms GTG's editorial director Victoria Woodhall.
This super potent 20 per cent glycolic acid body serum is a great summer skin smoother – highly effective the night before a self-tan and for bumpy areas such as the backs of the arms where chicken skin can appear. It definitely smells like you’re in peel territory (there's no added fragrance) but when our tester tried it, it didn’t feel drying thanks to hyaluronic acid, jojoba oil and shea butter. If using it on the neck and décolletage don’t leave it on for more than 20 minutes, advises Beauty Pie's founder Marcia Kilgore
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