Sandpaper is certainly high up there on a list of unfavorable nouns when it comes to skin.
Which is why it's no surprise that a lot of you have asked us about those curious bumpy and rough patches of skin that seem to crop up, especially in cold, dry weather, on the back of our arms, legs, or other areas of the body. They aren’t zits and it isn't the dreaded 'bac(k)ne' we all deteste, but it has a distinctly sandpapery feel.
It’s called kerotosis pilaris. Sounds like a distant star. Well, it isn't so celestial.
It's like a constellation (heh) of raised, hard, sometimes-red bumps on the skin that are a buildup of keratin, a structural protein that is a big part of our hair, nails, skin (and claws for you cats and bears out there). The buildup gets trapped inside our pores/hair follicles and forms the hard, textured plugs we see and feel on our arms, legs, or even butts. "They resemble hard goosebumps, but they certainly don't disappear as easily or quickly," said Laura P., Skin Therapist at NoMad.
Which leads us to the bad news first.
KP, as it's lovingly abbreviated, isn't something you can completely get rid of or cure. In fact, it's still a bit of a mystery though the widely accepted belief is that genetics plays a big role in it and somewhere around 40-50% of people experience KP at one point or another.
The good news is that it's a completely harmless skin condition. And with attention and TLC, you can get it to a manageable place.
Of course, our team has lots to say when it comes to dealing with KP. The two things to help move KP along are really exfoliation and hydration , "especially in winter time when our skin is dry and it flares up much worse," says Gina at Tribeca.
Let's start with exfoliation. "You gotta break that gunk down. I've used peels and body scrubs like our Grown Alchemist Peppermint & Ylang Ylang Scrub
2-3 times a week. Even microdermabrasion. I'm lucky not to have an extreme, reddish form of KP, but my regimen has really improved the appearance of it," recounts Alyssa at the Upper West Side. For hydrating, "a rich moisturizer on the body is critical," adds Esther at Noho. If you're super dry, like in winter, you could even "layer a hydrating serum like hyaluronic acid" on before your richer cream to those KP areas, adds Adriana at Noho.
As with everything, we start with ingredients and the big winners in the fight against KP are acids that help exfoliate and hydrate, like glycolic and lactic. "I've used glycolic wipes, which are convenient to use on the body," suggested Liana at NoMad. Think of it like a mini-peel for the affected area, using the acid to break down the dead skin and gunk.
Melissa at Noho, picks lactic acid, a naturally-derived acid from milk, as the superstar for the job. "This is one of the best ingredients for KP. It exfoliates and hydrates." In product form, AmLactin is a very common and effective drug store go-to for the body because of its high concentraction of lactic acid, though some of our team wishes the formula was a touch cleaner.
As with anything, knowing what something is is often the first, important step in managing it. A Skin Therapist or dermatologist can identify KP with the naked eye – no tests needed. "I once had a client who had mild KP on her face, which is rare. She thought she was dealing with acne but it was something different," says Melissa. Once you know, the rest is about "consistency to maintain it at a level you're happy with," adds Alyssa.
So in summary, KP is harmless though it can be frustrating. Listen closely to what your skin needs. Exfoliate, but don't scrub angrily. Moisturize vigilantly. Do all of this consistently.
And if all else fails, perhaps it's time for that ink you've been thinking about. "PS, I had it for years on my upper arms and it never came back after I got a tattoo," says Melissa.