Many of our patients tell us that they have “red bumps on my arms.” They assume that these red bumps are acne bumps and some of them have even tried applying acne medications to these bumps. Dr. Schweiger explains that, “These red bumps on the arms are usually not acne, but a different condition called keratosis pilaris. Keratosis pilaris occurs when there is a buildup of excess keratin around the hair follicles, which can cause the formation of the hard plug in the hair follicle.” Keratosis pilaris (commonly referred to as KP) is actually not acne at all, though its appearance often mimics the appearance of acne.
Keratosis pilaris is not dangerous and is usually asymptomatic, meaning that it is not painful or itchy. The most common areas to develop keratosis pilaris are upper arms, thighs, and buttocks, though KP can also present on the cheeks – which looks very much like acne. The treatment for keratosis pilaris is different from that of acne, because we need to address a different issue. However, some of the same ingredients can actually help with both conditions. Ingredients such as salicylic acid, retinoic acid (like retin-A), and glycolic acid help to unplug the follicle. These ingredients also help to unclog pores that attract p. acnes bacteria and lead to the development of acne. Other ingredients used to treat keratosis pilaris, such as urea creams, slough off the dead skin cells that build up around the follicle, but do not treat or prevent acne. Urea is an effective and commonly used treatment for KP, but is not used in the treatment of acne.