Using the term “strawberry” to describe the appearance of your legs may sound sweet, but it actually refers to an annoying skin issue. It essentially means you’re dealing with enlarged or darkened follicles that make you look like you have teeny strawberry seeds dotting your limbs. But, ahead of the season of shorts and swimsuits, three experts have weighed in on how to get rid of strawberry legs.
The skin issue can happen for a variety of reasons. The most common culprit is keratosis pilaris (KP), according to Dr. Muneeb Shah, M.D., a dermatology resident physician (who you may recognize as TikTok’s @dermdoctor). “It’s essentially scaly, red bumps,” he tells Bustle. “It’s when keratin plugs the hair follicles with some surrounding inflammation.” (Keratin is what dead skin cells are made of, BTW.) On darker skin tones, he notes the bumps may appear hyper-pigmented rather than red. It’s important to note there’s no definitive cure for the condition — that said, certain treatments can improve the appearance of the spots, says Shah.
There’s currently no scientific consensus on why some people get KP and others don’t. Regardless, the upside is it’s not a cause for concern, says board-certified dermatologist and Proactiv consultant Dr. Rachel Nazarian, M.D. — it can simply happen when you get a buildup of dead skin cells, and the resulting inflammation is what causes the strawberry-like appearance. And, according to Shah, the condition is genetic and “seems to be more common in people with atopic dermatitis (eczema).”
The second cause of strawberry legs is folliculitis, says Nazarian. “Folliculitis is triggered by inflamed and irritated hair follicles on the thighs and legs,” she tells Bustle. This often happens after shaving, explains Dr. Anar Mikailov, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist and founder of KP Away, a skin care line that targets the condition.
You can also get the tiny dots on your skin from things like shaving, broken capillaries, or ingrown hairs. However you ended up with the condition, this is what you need to know about how to get rid of strawberry legs.
1. Watch Your Shaving Technique
If your strawberry legs are from either folliculitis or ingrown hairs, check your shaving habits. Mikailov suggests following the same shaving techniques that help with ingrown hairs: Ensure your skin is moist, use a single blade razor, and moisturize afterward. His tip? Shave right after a warm bath or shower, and use a moisturizing lather cream or hair conditioner as your buffer. “Shave in the direction of the hair, then use a thick moisturizer,” he tells Bustle.
2. Use Chemical Exfoliants
It can be tempting to grab a physical exfoliant to slough off the dead skin cells, but Nazarian advises putting the loofah (and other scrubs) down. “The most common mistake I see people make is using a physical exfoliator to scrub the bumps away,” she tells Bustle. The problem with this? Though it’ll temporarily dislodge plugged follicles, the rougher form of exfoliation will cause even more inflammation, she explains — and this leads to more redness.
Treatment starts with the products you’re using in the shower, says Shah, who recommends using an exfoliating cleanser when washing your skin. “[These] can help break down some of the keratin that’s plugging the hair follicle,” he tells Bustle. Look for products with ingredients like glycolic acid, salicylic acid, and other alpha-hydroxy and beta-hydroxy acids (AHAs and BHAs). In other words — reach for chemical exfoliants for your body. Nazarian advocates very gently washing the affected areas and then patting the skin dry before getting dressed.
3. Stay Moisturized
Hydration is key: Nazarian says skin dryness will make the condition more noticeable, which is why it can tend to flare up in the fall and winter months. Moisture helps mitigate the side effects. “The most important thing is to restore lipids and water density in the hair follicles and surrounding skin,” Mikailov says. Reach for products with ceramides, fatty acids (aka lipids), and hydrating essentials like glycerin and hyaluronic acid. Dr. Morgan Rabach, M.D., a dermatologist based in New York City, adds to also look for lactic acid and retinols in your moisturizer, which can provide gentle exfoliation.
4. Treat The Discoloration
Whether you’re dealing with redness or dark spots, there are in-office treatments that can help even things out. Board-certified dermatologist Dr. Papri Sarkar, M.D., says that because keratosis pilaris is caused by a combination of keratin buildup and inflammation, laser treatments could be an effective solution. She notes that chemical exfoliation is great to remove dead skin cells, but if it’s the redness that bothers you most, a laser treatment can reduce its appearance — just note it’ll require multiple sessions for best results. “For patients who are plagued by the brown spots, we can either do [professional] chemical peels or a combination of a brightening and exfoliating cream to help both the color change and the spicules,” Sarkar adds.
For ways to reduce discoloration at home, you can turn to body peels, aka chemical peel-type formulas meant for the skin beneath neck. These tend to contain chemical exfoliants such as AHAs, BHAs, or trichloroacetic acids (TCA) to slough off dead skin buildup for a more even complexion.
5. Switch To Products For Sensitive Skin
Rabach notes that strawberry legs (or keratosis pilaris if you’re dealing with the spots elsewhere on the body too) could be a sign of sensitive skin. If your skin has reacted to active ingredients a lot in the past, you might want to tweak your routine to be more gentle. Look for soaps, moisturizers, and other products specifically formulated for sensitive skin, suggests Rabach. It can also help to use fragrance-free products to keep any irritation at bay.
Kootiratrakarn, T. (2015). Epidermal Permeability Barrier in the Treatment of Keratosis Pilaris. Dermatology Research and Practice. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4354723/
Kumari, R. (2010). Comparative study of trichloroacetic acid versus glycolic acid chemical peels in the treatment of melasma. Indian J Dermatol Venereol Leprol. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/20657143/
Sharad, J. (2013). Glycolic acid peel therapy – a current review. Clinical, Cosmetic, and Investigational Dermatology. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3875240/
Thomas, M. (2012). Keratosis Pilaris Revisited: Is It More Than Just a Follicular Keratosis?. International Journal of Trichology. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3681106/
Dr. Papri Sarkar, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist in Boston, Massachusetts
Dr. Morgan Rabach, M.D., NYC-based board-certified dermatologist
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