What are these bumps on the back of my arms?

What are these bumps on the back of my arms?

Cindy Hanson

What are these bumps on the back of my arms?

This question was posed to me a couple weeks ago on our website. After responding, I thought it would make a good blog post to share with others.  :)

Keratosis Pilaris, or KP, is a common skin condition that results when keratin (a protein found in skin, hair, and nails) builds up and forms a plug, blocking the opening of a hair follicle. Usually many plugs form, causing patches of rough, bumpy skin. It commonly presents as numerous small, raised, tan or red little bumps around hair follicles on the upper arms, thighs, buttocks and cheeks. Why keratin builds up is unknown, but it often occurs in people who have other skin conditions like eczema. Keratosis Pilaris tends to improve in warm, humid weather and worsen in cold, dry weather. Like eczema, KP is a condition that often persists for years and tends to be worse in the childhood and young adult years. Similar to eczema, you can treat the appearance of KP but you may not necessarily resolve the condition.

So, what can you do to minimize the appearance of Keratosis Pilaris? For starters, keep your skin healthy. Follow some of these suggestions to start out in the right direction.

Moisturize your skin. Thick cream and ointment are better moisturizers than lotion. Apply them just after bathing while the skin is still moist. Try our Healing Salve or Unscented Body Butter.

Use warm water and limit bath time. Hot water and long showers or baths actually remove oil from skin and dry it out. Limit your bath or shower to 10 minutes or less and use warm water rather than hot. In some cases, KP can be slightly itchy. If so, try our Oatmeal Bath.

Use natural soap.  Most OTC soaps are harsh and drying and actually made with detergents. Choose mild, handmade soap made with natural oils and botanicals. Try any of our Soap.

Pat dry. After washing or bathing, gently pat or blot your skin dry with a towel so that some moisture remains on the skin. Immediately moisturize.

Don’t exfoliate. You may be tempted to exfoliate or scrub the bumps with a pumice stone or similar harsh exfoliant. Similarly, avoid scratching or picking the bumps, as these actions can lead to skin irritation, worsening of KP, bacterial infections or scarring.  

Use a humidifier as needed. This step is dependent on climate, season and geographical location where you live. Low humidity dries out skin. A portable humidifier or one attached to your furnace will add moisture to your home and raise the humidity. If you use a portable humidifier, make sure to keep it clean to ward off bacteria and fungus.

Over the counter medication. Some people may want to use OTC products in addition to the above recommendations. Look for products that contain a mild acid to help break down the keratin. Preparations containing hydroxy acids such as glycolic acid, citric acid, lactic acid or salicylic acid have been used in KP treatment.

I hope these recommendations are helpful if you or one of your children suffer from Keratosis Pilaris. When I worked in Family Practice, these are the steps I would offer my patients when they came in asking, “What are these bumps on the back of my arms?”

Until next time,





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