Don't break out the acne medication just yet -- those little white or red bumps on the backs of your upper limbs, face and (horror of horrors) buttocks -- may not be pimples at all.
A permanent goosebumped or chicken skin look is usually keratosis pilaris, a buildup of keratin, not sebum, in pores that does just as much of a number on appearance as acne -- but takes a totally different treatment to cure.
Keratin is one of the building blocks of skin and hair -- a protein that, in layers, protects you from outside damage. Get too much of this protein built up on your skin, though, and hair follicles get plugged up fast.
Dry skin, atopic dermatitis and a genetic tendency toward exczema and allergies factor into keratosis pilaris, but many sufferers show no obvious cause. In the young, the condition is more common and typically clears up with age, but some will struggle with it for a lifetime.
Keep hair follicles from plugging by preventing skin irritation. Your days of carefree skincare testing are over -- that means no harsh skin treatments and a careful selection of gentle products. Instead of bar soap, use only moisturizing liquid cleansers, and keep away from anything deodorizing or antibacterial.
Never scratch or pick at the bumps. Keratosis pilaris scars just as much as acne, leaving red or brown spots that take forever to fade, and sometimes scars remain even if you leave it alone.
Keratin is a hard protein so keeping skin soft will also soften any buildup and keep it from plugging hair follicles. Moisturize twice daily with a product that contains lanolin, glycerin or petroleum jelly, and install a humidifier in your home to keep the air from drying out, particularly in the winter.
Take short showers with warm water, not hot, to avoid stripping too many oils from your skin. Wash with gentle cloths or polyester sponges, not loofas and scrub gloves, and pat yourself dry -- do not rub.
Improve skin softness with gentle, topical exfoliation. Skin creams with alpha hydroxy acids, or AHAs, like glycolic or lactic acid can help exfoliate skin without drying it out, although they may sting and irritate your skin. Beta hydroxy acid creams that contain salicylic acid are anti-inflammatory and can help calm the redness.
Retinoid creams speed up cell turnover and prevent keratin buildup, but the subsequent redness and peeling skin may not be your cup of tea. If all else fails, visit the dermatologist for laser resurfacing that reduces scarring and keeps pores keratin-free.
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