There are few skin conditions more annoying (and, let’s be honest, embarrassing) than those red, itchy bumps on the back of your arms. And this time of year, they’re out in full force.
“The bumps that appear on the backs of our arms are usually more troublesome in the winter months,” says Dallas-based dermatologist Kristel Polder, M.D. “These bumps, or keratosis pilaris, are aggravated by hot showers that dry out our skin. We typically spend more time indoors with the dry heat, which can cause the skin bumps to become irritated.”
While derms agree that there’s no full-on cure for these bumps, they do have a number of helpful tips on how to ease them into (almost) oblivion. Here’s how it’s done.
1. Open up your pores with warm water.
Board-certified dermatologist David E. Bank, M.D., author of Beautiful Skin: Every Woman’s Guide to Looking Her Best at Any Age, suggests giving your skin a chance to breathe and rehydrate by exposing it to warm water before treating the bumps. Beware of too hot showers, as Polder mentioned, which will counteract any positive effects.
2. Wash with salicylic acid.
According to Debra Jaliman M.D., board-certified dermatologist and author of the book Skin Rules, salicylic acid can be very helpful in breaking down the bumps. You can try washing with a salicylic acid-infused cleanser, or using impregnated pads or toners with salicylic acid once a day.
3. Scrub—but not too hard.
“Keratosis pilaris bumps are hardened dead skin and so to get rid of them you need to exfoliate to remove that dead skin,” says board-certified dermatologist Cynthia Bailey, M.D. The best way to exfoliate, she explains, is to combine physical exfoliation (like scrubs and rough shower cloths or sponges) with chemical exfoliation (using ingredients called keratolytics to loosen the glue that hold the dead cells together). The best keratolytics are the AHAs like glycolic acid and lactic acid.
However, be careful when choosing your scrubbing tool, Bank says. Using a loofah or a grainy scrub might temporarily feel good, but these may actually worsen the condition.
4. Try a Clarisonic.
Another way to gently exfoliate is by using this tool, Jaliman says, noting that this is one of her favorite treatments for keratosis pilaris. “It sonically removes the dead skin cells that are clogging the pores and causing the bumps,” she explains.
5. Use the right lotion.
Next, you’ll want to use a lotion specifically geared toward stopping KP—but you’ll want to leave your skin slightly damp before application. “Moisturizing only happens when you trap water in the dead skin cell layer by applying moisturizers after you shower or bathe,” Bailey explains. “Applying them to completely dry skin won’t work.”
As far as ingredients go, look for moisturizers that have AHAs or BHAs to continue sloughing off the bumps. Esthetician Amy Townsend recommends a good lactic acid hydrator. “Lactic acid is often milk or sugar derived, and is very nourishing to the skin,” she says. “My favorite moisturizer is PCA Skin’s Body Therapy, because it has a very high content of lactic acid.”
Jaliman recommends Amlactin Cerapeutic Restoring Body Lotion, another an over-the-counter product which contains lactic acid, as well as products with glycolic acid and retinol creams—the latter actually decrease the cohesiveness of the epidermal cells and cause them to slough off.
Dr. Reagan Anderson of the Colorado Dermatology Institute says that CeraVe SA lotion, which is formulated for combatting keratosis pilaris and contains salicylic acid, is another great option for getting rid of those bumps. (You can find it at your local drugstore.)
If these products simply don’t work for you, ask your dermatologist to prescribe something stronger.
6. Stay hydrated.
The final way to keep those red bumps at bay is to stay on top of your hydration. Drink water throughout the day (or tea, if you’re too chilly for something cold) and use a humidifier to keep your skin from getting too dry, suggests Soheil Simzar, M.D. of AVA MD.