All You Need to Know About Keratosis Pilaris, the Condition That Causes ‘Chicken Skin’
This week, actor Yami Gautam opened up about living with a skin condition called “keratosis pilaris” on social media. She mentioned developing the condition as a teenager. With no known cure for it yet, Gautam admitted the condition added to her “fears and insecurities” about her body while growing up.
“For those who haven’t heard about this, it’s a skin condition wherein you get tiny bumps on the skin. I promise they aren’t as bad as your mind, and your neighbor aunty makes it out to be [sic],” she wrote in an Instagram post.
Also called “chicken skin,” the condition results in tiny bumps — often across one’s upper arms, thighs, cheeks, or buttocks — basically, anywhere hair follicles exist. According to NHS, the spots are usually the same color as one’s skin but can also be red-colored for people with a fairer complexion and brownish-black for those with darker skin. The bumps can occasionally be itchy, but they for some, they may never itch or hurt.
Besides bumps, keratosis pilaris can result in dry, rough patches on the skin too.
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The condition can worsen or become more pronounced in low humidity due to seasonal changes since that naturally makes the skin drier.
Experts suggest maintaining adequate hygiene, using hypoallergenic soaps, applying hydrating lotions, avoiding tight clothes that can cause friction, using humidifiers in dry weather, and most importantly, not picking at the bumps to minimize any form of irritation.
Nonetheless, the condition is considered “harmless.” But it is chronic and believed to be “among the most common dermatologic conditions.” Research suggests that worldwide, it affects 50-80% of adolescents and about 40% of adults. India alone reports more than 10 million cases of keratosis pilaris every year.
Unfortunately, it can neither be cured nor prevented, Mayo Clinic observes.
It develops when one’s skin produces excessive amounts of keratin that blocks hair follicles. This is the same protein that’s present in our hair and nails. Why the excess build-up happens is unknown, but experts note the condition often runs through families. However, it isn’t infectious.
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Despite being chronic, the condition may improve over time. In several cases, it can completely disappear too. “For many people, keratosis pilaris goes away with time, even if you opt not to treat it. Clearing tends to happen gradually over many years. There is no way to know who will see keratosis pilaris clear,” the American Academy of Dermatology Association notes.
While the condition may be harmless and disappear with time, as in Gautam’s case, it can lead one to develop insecurities about one’s skin — especially given society’s obsession with soft, smooth, flawless skin for women.
“Today, I’m open about my skin concerns; I talk about them with friends and experts. We swap stories and treatment recommendations. And more importantly, now I know that perfectly soft, commercial-ready skin is hardly the norm. I think the main difference between my attitude now and my attitude 10 years ago is that I know I’m not alone,” Amanda Montell, a 24-year-old living with keratosis pilaris, wrote last month. The condition had led her to feel ashamed of herself while growing up.
While there’s little to no medical research on the intersection of keratosis pilaris and body image issues, one can only hope the vast number of people living with it can, eventually, feel better about their bodies like Gautam and Montell were able to.