What is Keratosis Pilaris?
Keratosis pilaris (KP), those little bumps most typically on the backs of our arms but often other locations too, can be minimally noticeable or a huge eyesore, especially when we squeeze or pick at them. Those tiny bumps can be irresistible, and for some, they can be the only site of skin picking, or the “gateway drug” of picking, meaning they are what we start with before our picking addiction escalates and our attention spreads to more body parts. (It progressed just like this for me.)
What are those bumps anyway?
For some unknown reason, keratin, a skin protein, tends to build up and plug up the hair follicles, so you get a bump around each fine hair. Why does it occur? There’s no definitive one single reason, but there are circumstances that contribute to it. Luckily those circumstances can be changed to make it better.
How to reduce or eliminate KP
1) Mechanical exfoliation
For some people it helps to scrub the skin with a washcloth or shower gloves to get rid of the build-up material. For others this is irritating and counterproductive. We’re all different, so you may need to try a few different approaches before you hit on something that works.
2) Chemical exfoliation
There are some creams you can get from a doctor or over-the-counter at the drugstore which have acids in them to do this. I’m a fan of going natural whenever you can, which often is more effective and almost always is less risky in terms of side effects. Apple cider vinegar (ACV) is a great natural acid that is also probiotic (if you use a brand like Bragg’s which states it has “the mother” – the beneficial bacteria) and does double duty against acne. When I did consumer research online on the topic, ACV was one of the two most frequently praised substances users lauded for eliminating their KP.
KP often gets worse in cold and dry winter weather, when skin dries out. That may be one reason why the second most common substance people on online forums cited in curing their KP was coconut oil. Coconut oil is also high in lauric acid, which is likely why it’s more effective than other moisturizers. Whether you use coconut oil or another moisturizer, be aware that many commercial skin care products are full of potentially harmful chemicals. The Environmental Working Group keeps a database of health ratings for cosmetics. Use it to find good choices or see if your favorites are healthful or hazardous.
4) Nutritional supplementation
Another reason the coconut oil may be effective is that it locally delivers some fat soluble vitamins we are commonly deficient in. Vitamins A, D and K are important for skin health (among other things) and these vitamins help with acne as well as KP. A and D particularly, but you need K along too for safety and synergistic benefits. A good source of vitamin K is grass-fed butter. We’ve been going through the Kerry Gold from Costco like nobody’s business (yummy and healthy). Liver is THE best source of these fat soluble vitamins so eat up if you like it, but make sure it’s organic. A wonderful supplement that was used for health in our grandparents or great grandparents time is cod liver oil, which has plenty of vitamins A and D. I recommend fermented cod liver oil. It’s great against acne as well as KP. I tried the spoonable oil a few years ago and had trouble stomaching it, but recently I’ve been taking this excellent product in capsule form, perfect if you can’t bear the taste or texture of the substance on its own.
If you want to be sure you get the vitamin K as well, you can take a mix of the cod liver oil with royal butter. It’s not cheap, but it’s great stuff. Interestingly, the first “top customer review” on the Amazon page is titled, “Got rid of keratosis pilaris on upper arms”.
5) Gluten. Also dairy and other food sensitivities
Last but definitely not least, if you have already tried quick and easy fixes like ACV, coconut oil and fat-soluble vitamin supplements and it hasn’t worked at all on your KP, strongly suspect gluten. Go gluten-free for a period of time – a month is probably good – and see if your KP disappears. If so, chances are KP is not the only problem gluten is causing for you. What else do you notice about your health in its absence? Aches and pains go away? Have more energy? Do less picking? Lose weight without trying? Gluten intolerance is a huge undiagnosed problem. It seems crazy that “natural” grains like wheat should be bad for our health, but the reality is our wheat today is not natural – it has been hybridized for higher yield and with those desirable changes, the amount of gluten also happened to increase many-fold. Nobody tested whether the new wheat was safe for consumption and more and more evidence is accumulating that it isn’t.
My KP went away when I went gluten-free a few years ago, and many others have had the same experience.
Dairy may also be the culprit in your KP. Eggs are another food that is often a problem. Other food sensitivities may also be causing or contributing to your KP. And if you have multiple food sensitivities or allergies, you might need to investigate and heal on a deeper functional level before you see skin problems like KP go away. Contact me to learn about Functional Diagnostic Nutrition (FDN) and how I can help you build your overall health using functional testing and specific natural protocols.
You may also like to read about the relationship between Food and Skin Picking.
I trust you feel well-armed with some good ideas to try out. Please let us know what works for you in the comments below.
I also did a video on this topic:
Love and support,