For the last year of my life, I have been hunting high and low, trying treatments, and consulting experts for a cure for my Keratosis Pilaris. My arms have made me self-conscious my whole life with remarks from people asking, "What’s wrong with your skin?" and, "Is that contagious?" while moving their chairs further away.
If you’ve ever experienced Keratosis Pilaris (KP), you’ll know how frustrating this skin condition is. Those annoying red bumps that plague your arms, thighs or bum can be really tricky to deal with as there’s actually no definitive cure. Sorry to be the one to break that news to you, but it’s best to get that information straight off the bat, don’t you think? Treatment will be a case of trial and error and what may work for some, may not work for others. But, as someone who really suffers with this condition, I hope I can share some knowledge and experience in lessening its impact on your life.
What is Keratosis Pilaris?
According to dermatologist Dr Christopher Rowland Payne KP occurs "exclusively in people that are atopic." It’s caused by the skin overproducing keratin, the hard protein found in hair and nails, which combines with dead skin cells to block the hair follicles causing red, raised bumps, or 'plugs.'
How do I treat Keratosis Pilaris?
I paid a visit to Mortar & Milk, an expert skin treatment clinic in London, to see if clinical aesthetician Pamela Marshall could share some insight. She suggested exfoliating weekly, either with a gentle dry brush or using a glycolic acid body treatment, explaining that "lycolic acid forces cell turnover while polyhydroxy acids calm and hydrate our skin." She continued: "Most importantly, do not pick at the skin or over exfoliate as this can aggravate the condition. Always remember that keeping the skin hydrated with a good moisturiser is the most effective method. It will take a while to see results, but your skin should start to calm down."
The key to dealing with KP is consistency. If your routine stops, the build-up of keratin returns and, unfortunately, so do the dreaded bumps. This is probably the most disheartening part of this condition, so when you see progress — keep going!
What products should I buy?
After trialling products for the last 10 years of my life, I’ve rounded up the only ones that are worth your money and make a noticeable difference to the appearance and texture of persistent KP.
This product has reached cult status for a reason: it works. It’s an Alpha Hydroxy Acid lotion packed with lactic acid to aid the skin's natural exfoliation process. Lactic acid breaks down the ‘glue’ that bonds follicle-clogging dead skin cells. In their clinical trials, over 80% of KP sufferers saw an improvement in skin texture. You’ll have to stick with this on a daily basis to see results but, trust me, you will.
This cream from Exuviance is an AHA and PHA (Poly Hydroxy Acid) combination, which is perfect for those with more sensitive skin. If you’ve tried other formulas and found them too harsh, try this gentler option. PHA’s pack the same punch but are the slower version of AHA, it will exfoliate but it will take longer to achieve the same results. Again, use day and night to see the effects.
Although this product is marketed as a facial wash, it’s great as an ultra-hydrating body wash. I realised that no matter how many moisturisers I put on, my skin still felt parched and this was down to me stripping my skin with cheap, foaming body wash in the shower. This formula is full of ceramides, which are lipids (the fatty substance that make up part of the skin's barrier) found in the skin that provide protection from things like pollution. If your skin barrier is compromised by overuse of acids and too much physical exfoliation (get rid of that apricot scrub, NOW!) then you need to give it back some protection. Ceramides are the perfect way to do this.
Is there anything else can I do?
As well as tackling my KP at home, I also paid a visit to the Therapie Clinic in London to see if a professional treatment could help. If you are too lazy to stick to an at-home regimen, this is the way to go. We started with a thorough cleanse of my arms and after that, a personalised treatment began. A papaya enzyme peel (£100) was applied which was tingly but not uncomfortable, it exfoliated my skin to a deeper, stronger level than any product you can buy over the counter. Another cleanse ensued followed by hyaluronic acid serum to rehydrate.
Lastly, I was given some LED light therapy. Red light improves collagen synthesis, stimulating cell repair, and blue light will kill bacteria. Orange light will soothe inflammation and redness. My therapist tried a mixture of all three (hence the pink light in the photo below).
While I was pleasantly surprised by how soft this treatment left my skin, it needs to be done every two weeks so you’d need regular appointments for a few months to see a change, making it an expensive option.
I’ve definitely seen an improvement in my KP during a year of trialing these treatments and I have learned that persistence is paramount. Consistently using a regime that works for you will make a huge difference but, please don’t feel downhearted about the appearance of your skin, it will get better. Trust me.