June 6th, 2011
07:54 AM ET

Can you make keratosis pilaris go away?

Every weekday, a CNNHealth expert doctor answers a viewer question. On Mondays, it's pediatrician Dr. Jennifer Shu.

Asked by Jennifer from Richmond, Virginia

My 14-year-old daughter has had bumps on her cheeks, upper arms and thighs for several years. Her pediatrician say it's keratosis pilaris and not to worry about it, but my daughter doesn't like the way the bumps look. Is there anything we can try to make them go away?

Expert answer

Thanks for your question. Keratosis pilaris is a very common skin condition that occurs in different degrees of severity in up to 80% of teens and nearly half of adults.

Resembling pink or flesh-colored goose bumps, keratosis pilaris is caused when a substance called keratin clogs the hair follicles on the skin, usually on the outer parts of the upper arms and thighs and sometimes also on the face.

Keratosis pilaris is not harmful and if left untreated may eventually clear up, although this can take years. The condition often runs in families and tends to be worst during the teen and young adult years.

Some people find their skin improves in the summer with sun exposure, while for others it can get worse.

Your daughter may first wish to try simple measures such as taking warm rather than hot baths or showers and running a humidifier in her room.

Soap-free cleansers such as Dove or Cetaphil are often recommended, as are general over-the-counter moisturizers. Exfoliating with a loofah may also aid in removing some of the keratin.

There are multiple creams and lotions that may be prescribed for patients wanting to treat keratosis pilaris; however, they don't always work well. Products containing lactic acid, alpha hydroxy acid, salicylic acid, a retinoid or other acne medicines, or urea can sometimes reduce the bumps.

Using a topical steroid for about a week may also help if the bumps are very red or inflamed. In severe cases, removing the bumps by microdermabrasion, chemical peels or other methods can be successful.

You can ask your pediatrician if any of these therapies may be useful in your daughter's situation or consider consulting a dermatologist.

Because this condition is so common, I hope our readers will share their experiences with treating keratosis pilaris as well.

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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.