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Chicken Skin

Written by: Becki Murray

Updated by: Alice Hart-Davis

Last Updated: 5 January 2024

If you’ve ever noticed tiny, rough bumps on the back of your upper arms, you might be puzzled as to what causes them, or be annoyingly familiar with the charming nickname ‘chicken skin’. Textural resemblance to the plucked bird aside, ‘Keratosis Pilaris’ – as the skin condition is officially called – is actually a super common condition and it’s pretty harmless too. But it can be itchy, annoying, and quite noticeable, due to the rough, uneven skin texture it causes. Luckily, our FAQs can help make getting rid of chicken skin on your upper arms a little easier.

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Chicken skin

What is chicken skin on upper arms?

‘Chicken skin’ or Keratosis Pilaris (KP) is a common skin condition that is frequently seen on the upper arms, although it can affect your thighs, face, and bottom too. It occurs when the skin produces an excess of keratin – a protein that forms a protective barrier on the skin’s surface. These skin cells are then not shed properly and instead accumulate around hair follicles, resulting in bumps, which can resemble the skin texture of a plucked chicken, hence the nickname. While its typically not cause for medical concern, it does leave your arms (and other areas it may appear) looking less smooth and toned, which can be irritating and make people feel self-conscious, especially when wearing certain clothing.

What are the symptoms of chicken skin on the upper arms?

The main symptom of ‘chicken skin’ is the small bumps on your arms caused by the build-up of keratin. These are commonly flesh-coloured or reddish in appearance – a bit like goosepimples. The bumps may make the skin on your arms slightly flushed and some may become slightly white or yellowish due to trapped skin cells within hair follicles, but they are not the same as body acne signs, such as blackheads or pus-filled whiteheads. In either case, avoid the urge to pick them! In fact, doing so can make the bumps inflamed, which may make any itching worse. 

What causes chicken skin on your upper arms?

  1. Genetics: Specific genetic variations appear to make individuals more prone to producing excess keratin, which in turn can cause ‘Chicken Skin’ bumps. That means KP often runs in families, so you may notice your loved ones have a history of the condition too.
  2. Dry Skin: Dry skin can contribute to the development of ‘Chicken Skin’, as it leads to the buildup of keratin that characteristics the condition.
  3. Weather Changes: Chicken skin tends to be more noticeable in cold, dry climates – perhaps in part because this can make your skin drier too. However, it can improve when the weather is warmer and more humid.
  4. Puberty: KP can often develop around puberty, as hormonal changes cause excess sebum and keratin production to occur, leading to plugged hair follicles on your arms. That’s also why you may notice that your symptoms worsened at certain times of your menstrual cycle.
  5. Pregnancy and Menopause: Hormonal changes caused by pregnancy and menopause can exacerbate KP symptoms by changing your skin’s oil production and overall texture.
  6. Weight Gain/Loss: KP can be more noticeable in individuals with excess body fat as the distribution of fat beneath the skin can make the raised bumps more pronounced.
  7. Medical Conditions: KP may be more common in individuals with certain skin conditions like eczema or PCOS.
  8. Diet: While there isn’t a direct link between ‘Chicken Skin’ and specific foods, a balanced diet rich in vitamins and minerals can improve overall skin health and appearance.

Is ‘Chicken skin’ straightforward to treat?

Chicken skin can be challenging to treat and there’s no specific cure for it. However, there are ways to improve its appearance. The appropriate approach may vary depending on the cause and severity of the condition, but there are creams, exfoliants, topical medications and some tweakments available that could help.

 

How to get rid of chicken skin on your arms using tweakments

Chicken skin is predominately a skin texture issue, so look to tweakments that focus on improving skin smoothness, texture, and tone. That includes:

  1. Skin peels: Chemical peels deeply exfoliate the skin by using exfoliating acids that dissolve the bonds holding old, dead skin cells onto the skin’s surface. These dead cells then slough off, leaving fresh skin beneath. This improves overall texture and tone, thus reducing the appearance of KP. Look for a practitioner who uses AlumierMD, Clinicare or Neostrata Prosystem or PCA Skin.
  2. Laser therapy: Laser treatments that work to reduce redness and uneven texture, such as BBL Hero, Cutera Laser Genesis and DEKA SmartXide Touch, may help improve the appearance of KP. They work by directing a focused beam of light at the skin, which breaks down targeted cells, and also triggers the skin’s repair mode, to boost collagen production and smooth the skin’s surface.
  3. Microneedling: By creating controlled micro-injuries in the skin, microneedling can help trigger the skin to repair itself, which can in turn improve skin texture – leading to firmer, clearer and smoother skin. Leading brands include Collagen P.I.N, Dermapen, and SkinPen Precision.

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How to get rid of chicken skin on your arms using skincare

  1. Exfoliation: Both physical and chemical exfoliators are a top recommendation for tackling chicken skin, as regular exfoliation can help remove dead skin cells. Look for ingredients like alpha hydroxy acids, including lactic acid, and almond shell pieces for a gentle yet effective physical scrub. Try Ameliorate’s Transforming Body Lotion and Naturium’s The Smoother Body Lotion.
  2. Moisturisation: Using moisturisers that contain ingredients like urea or ceramides, can help keep your skin hydrated and smooth. Regularly applying them can help alleviate the dryness that can worsen chicken skin, while improving overall skin condition. La Roche Posay and CeraVe both have great options. 
  3. Sun protection: Sunburn can irritate KP-affected skin and make it more noticeable, so protecting your body from the sun using a factor 30 sunscreen or above is extra important. Choose one with added antioxidants to keep inflammation to a minimal too. Garnier and Coola won’t break the bank.
  4. Retinoids: By helping encourage skin cell turnover, retinoids can also help improve the appearance of chicken skin on your arms and the rest of your body. It’s a growing bodycare category but Paula Choice’s Skin-Smoothing Retinol Body Treatment is a good one to use.

How much, on average, would treating the concern cost?

The cost of treating KP can vary depending on the chosen treatments, and the expertise of the provider. You can get fairly affordable body creams to help make it less noticeable, while Tweakments are likely to range from between £150 for microneedling to nearer £500 for laser treatments. 

How to get rid of chicken skin on your arms through lifestyle changes

To avoid making KP worse, avoid overly long or especially hot baths and showers which can strip the skin of its natural oils. Similarly, avoid harsh soaps and skincare products that contain a lot of alcohol and strong fragrances, as these ingredients may cause skin irritation and worsen dryness, especially if you have sensitive skin. You may want to invest in a humidifier, especially during the winter months, as this can help maintain skin hydration, reducing KP symptoms. Maintaining a healthy diet and staying hydrated will also ensure your skin is as healthy as possible, and, of course, avoiding scratching should be a given as it is likely to only make the bumps worse.

Which at-home use devices can help with KP?

At-home devices for KP treatment are limited, and their effectiveness are unlikely to match professional treatments. 

Are there any health implications?

Chicken skin is typically considered a harmless skin condition. However, if the bumps become inflamed and very itchy, or they are not responding well to treatment, consult a dermatologist for personalised advice and to rule out any underlying medical issues.

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