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Chicken skin

Dr Karen Martin
Reviewed by Dr Karen MartinReviewed on 19.10.2023 | 4 minutes read
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Chicken skin, also known as keratosis pilaris, is a very common skin condition, where the skin gets bumpy and red, resembling chicken skin or goosebumps.

It typically occurs on the upper outer arms and thighs, where hair follicles get blocked with pockets of keratin, a thick tough substance that helps to protect the skin. Bumps can be red, gray or flesh colored, and skin feels rough, dry and sometimes itchy.

This condition affects up to half of the population, running in families and appearing most commonly in adolescence, with improvement usually in adulthood. It is completely harmless, but people become concerned with the appearance.

What are the symptoms of chicken skin?

The most obvious symptom of keratosis pilaris is how it looks. Its appearance is where it gets the name chicken skin as the bumps resemble the skin of a plucked chicken.

They can emerge on any area of the body where hair follicles are present. This means it won’t develop on parts of the body like the soles of your feet or the palms of your hands.

These bumps are usually painless and can feel rough like sandpaper. They can sometimes become itchy and inflamed. Symptoms are generally worse in the winter months as cold weather can dry out the skin causing keratosis pilaris to flare up.

Chicken skin usually appears on the upper outer arms and thighs. The main symptoms to look out for are:

  • Tiny painless bumps on the skin.
  • Color depends on skin tone but can appear in a red, white, brown, pink, grey or flesh color.
  • Itchy irritated skin.
  • Dry rough skin.
  • Skin feeling sandpaper-like.

Is it contagious?

Keratosis pilaris is not infectious or contagious. It cannot spread from person to person. It’s caused by the skin being blocked with a build-up of keratin, a substance found in skin, hair and nails and not by contact with someone else.

How to treat chicken skin?

Although there is no guaranteed way to get rid of chicken skin, it can be treated with a suitable skincare routine and other measures such as a healthy diet. Mild symptoms can be considerably improved by regularly moisturizing the skin, and the condition may clear up naturally. Most people also find it gets better in the summer.

Healthwords pharmacists' top tips

  • Use a gentle physical exfoliation such as a salt scrub or try dry brushing to remove the dead skin.
  • Chemical exfoliants such as salicylic acid or lactic acid can help to break the keratin plugs down.
  • Use a moisturizer regularly, especially one containing urea.
  • Use cool or lukewarm water during showers or baths as hot water can cause irritation.
  • Avoid perfumed soaps and bathing products that cause dryness.
  • Gently pat skin dry instead of rubbing.
  • Do not scratch or pick skin.
  • Increasing the humidity in your home and workspace in winter can also help reduce skin dryness.

CeraVe SA Smoothing Cream aims to gently exfoliate the skin with salicylic acid, and contains 10% urea to smooth dry rough and bumpy skin. This can be used in combination with the smoothing cleanser for the best results.

Who can develop keratosis pilaris and is it genetic?

It’s a common skin condition that affects nearly 50% of people. It’s particularly common in women, children and teenagers. People who suffer from the following are more likely to be affected by chicken skin:

Keratosis pilaris can affect anyone but is most common in children and teenagers. It usually starts in late infancy or adolescence. In most cases, it will start to clear up during someone’s 20s and will be typically gone by the time they are 30.

There may also be a genetic element to chicken skin, meaning if a parent is affected by it, there is a chance their child could inherit the condition too.

When should I see my doctor?

If you are sure of the diagnosis, there is no reason to go to the doctor. You can speak to a pharmacist about the best moisturizer and exfoliant for this condition.

If you are unsure of the diagnosis, then book a routine appointment with your doctor, who will examine you.

Am I fit for work?

There is no reason to be off work with keratosis pilaris as it is not contagious and doesn’t cause any pain.

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This article has been written by UK-based doctors and pharmacists, so some advice may not apply to US users and some suggested treatments may not be available. For more information, please see our T&Cs.
Dr Karen Martin
Reviewed by Dr Karen Martin
Reviewed on 19.10.2023
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