When I was younger and immersed in the world of ballet, the only thing my teachers ever complimented me on was my long neck.
By classical standards, I fell short of the physical ideal in almost every way. Far too tall, too big, too developed (which was a polite way of saying that I had boobs and hips), unexceptional feet. But my neck? Ah, lovely! That was the long, thin neck of a ballerina!
In the regular world, though, my giraffe-like neck was just another thing for me to get picked on about. But like almost everything I was teased over in school, it’s something I really like in my adulthood. It sounds strange to say that my neck is one of my favourite features, but it really is; it’s elegant and really wears necklaces and all necklines well. Call me, Vampire Eric.
This winter, as I have mentioned about one billion times was ROUGH on my skin, and one of the ways it was roughest was that my keratosis pilaris flared up something terrible. I’ve never seen or felt it this bad. My thighs, elbows, mid-back and even my chest were covered with the lumpy bumps characteristic of KP.
Yeah, I call them lumpy bumps. I’m just THAT adorable.
My KP has always been quite mild; some exfoliation and the passage of time was always enough to (mostly) clear it up. Not this time. Still, I didn’t worry... until it began creeping up the side of my neck.
My beautiful neck? My favourite feature not on my face? Stop everything. I was NOT going gentle into that good night. I don’t own any turtlenecks, and there’s only so many ways one can get creative with neckerchiefs to hide the chicken-skin bumps that had appeared literally overnight.
So I went on the offensive. It was time to deal with my keratosis pilaris the only way I knew how: with COPIOUS RESEARCH.
KP: What Even Is It?
Based on anecdotal comment section evidence, it seems like most people who have KP don’t know that they have it. For years, I thought that I had mad ingrown hairs on my legs and that was what was causing the bumps. Incorrect! I also thought that doing planks on my elbows every day was causing the skin on my elbows to get lumpy and irritated. Incorrect again! It was KP--master criminal of the skin condition world--the whole time!
According to the Mayo Clinic, keratosis pilaris is caused by excess keratin and sebum forming a “scaly plug” (ew) that stops up the opening of the hair follicle. These plugs usually happen in groups, and form the traditional lumpy bumps of KP.
Nobody knows why keratin builds up like this in some people and not others, although there is a genetic component. However, it’s estimated that 40% of adults have KP, making it far from a purely inherited condition--or that number would be much bigger--so it’s far from a rare problem.
According to my doctor (Hi, Dr .Adams!) KP can look like a variety of things: slightly raised or whitish bumps, red or discoloured “pinpricks,” acne-like lumps, or clusters of whiteheads. They might almost be invisible except to the touch, or feel like “tough patches” instead of lumps. So much variation! This is why it’s best to have a medical professional diagnose your skin situation, and I should know--I tried for AGES to get my “ingrown hair” problem under control, only to realise that wasn’t the issue at all. Know your enemy!
Okay, So How Do I Fix It?
If you’re dealing with KP as an adult (say, around 30), congratulations, you will likely have this for life. There’s no absolute cure for it, but there are definitely things that you can do to treat it. I’ll discuss a few of them in order of their hardcore-ness.
My KP flares up in the extreme cold and dryness of winter. Apparently this is not uncommon, and a humidifier can really help. I’m dying over this teeny, cute one Faz wrote about a while ago.
My doc also told me to be very gentle with my skin, which means no aggressive physical exfoliation. All this does is irritate the lumpy-bumps, which makes them harder to get rid of. I’ll get into my KP-care routine in a second, but for now I’ll say I’ve stopped using rough exfoliating scrubs, and my skin is much happier for it.
We’re mostly talking alpha-hydroxy acids and urea here. These guys are used to break down the scaly plug blocking the pore so that the skin is nice and smooth again.
You can buy some of these over the counter--AmLactin is a popular option, containing around 12% lactic acid--but they also come in prescription strengths, too.
The big issue with these guys is that they haaaaate sunlight, so be sure to wear sunscreen as long as you use them. My doctor told me to apply mine mainly at night, which I’ve been doing when I get out of the shower. They may also make your skin peel-y, which is their job, but it can be pretty gross sometimes. You should see the skin that comes off my legs in the shower. YIKES.
I know, what CAN’T they do? As Rio discussed, retinoids promote cell turnover and therefore stop the keratin plugs from forming. According to my doctor, they are usually used to treat moderate or persistent KP that scars or discolours the skin, as the retinoid helps deal with both the bumps and the scarring. Two in one shot! Not bad!
For severe cases only. You usually have to have several sessions, and even then, it’s not guaranteed to work. My doc was cagey on this, using a lot of words like “can” and “potentially” (apparently a lot of people think that lasers = magic, which isn’t the case at all) so discuss it thoroughly with yours before you set your heart on it.
How Should I NOT Fix It?
While I was researching, I saw a lot of articles and blogs about how COCONUT OIL CURED MY KERATOSIS PILARIS! And guys, I’m sorry, but I gotta bust this myth.
If you have very dry skin and you don’t use any other moisturiser, coconut oil will probably help that. KP does happen more frequently in people whose skin is dry. However, since it isn’t an exfoliant, doesn’t alter your hormones (and therefore affect how much sebum your body produces) and does not change the way your cells replace themselves, coconut oil is NOT going to fix the underlying issues of your KP.
It may help with aspects of it--like the dry skin and that tough feeling--especially if the condition is mild, but unfortunately, it isn’t a cure. If it helps you, that is fantastic! If you want to try it out and your doctor says yes (oils are not for everybody, ESPECIALLY people with certain skin conditions), go for it! As with everything, though, just make sure you have accurate expectations about what it can do.
Coconut oil is fine and it has a lot of uses, but it isn’t magic. KP is a medical condition, and believe me, if we could cure medical conditions with oil, the FDA would be all over it.
Me, Myself and KP
Here’s the part where I tell you how I’m keeping my lumpy bumps under control and ensure the continuing beauty of my swan neck. This is advice direct from my doctor, and although it works for me, it shouldn’t be taken as binding arbitration for everyone. Again, PLEASE talk to a medical professional to make sure you are treating this the right way for you. Do I sound like a broken record? Probably! It is that important!
I start off with gentle exfoliation in the shower. Awful beauty confession: when I thought that my lumpy-bumps were caused by ingrown hairs, I used to scour my legs with the wide side of a pumice stone. TERRIBLE IDEA--DO NOT EVER DO THIS. Now I use a soft-yet-firm loofah and make sure not to apply too much pressure. So much better, so much less pain-causing.
The skin on my chest, torso and neck is too delicate to use this loofah on, though, so I exfoliate those areas with a cotton washcloth, the same way that I do my face. Small circles works best for me, concentrating mainly on the places where the KP pops up most regularly.
I’m also careful about the soaps and body washes that I use. Right now I am devoted to Dove Sensitive Skin Nourishing Body Wash, which is moisturising and lovely to my skin. I thought that this product was unscented since, y’know, that’s what the bottle says--but it does have a smell, and although it isn’t unpleasant, it does take some getting used to. I find that is the case with most things, though, so at least I’m used to it.
I pat myself dry when I’m out of the shower. This is a bit more gentle on my skin than rubbing it all over with a towel. Immediately after, I apply my moisturiser.
AmLactin Moisturing Body Lotion has been a miracle for me. I use the kind with 12% lactic acid in it, and my results have been freaking incredible. It used to be that when my KP flared up it would take around two weeks to settle down in some areas, and would never really go away in others. Not anymore.
I started to see a reduction in my bumps--which again, were classified as mild--after four days of use. My collarbone and neck were totally KP-free after seven days, while the areas that have the more severe red lumps took longer to show results.
After three weeks, though, the bumps on my elbows and the backs of my arms were TOTALLY GONE. I don’t have a “before” photo to show you (I never thought I’d need a picture of my bumpy elbows), but believe me when I tell you that this is unprecedented.
Speaking of unprecedented, this is what my legs look like today. You can see that I still have some red “pinpricks” on my thighs, but I’m gonna estimate that this represents a 90% improvement on what it was.
I have never seen my skin look this good. Never.
The big problem that I have with the AmLactin is the smell. It is very peculiar and you can’t mistake it for anything else. The culprit seems to be the ammonium hydroxide, and indeed it does smell slightly like ammonia. I do not love it, but my results have been so good that I won’t stop using it. I also find that the smell lightens up a lot after I put it on my skin, which is helpful, and like I said, I usually only wear it at night.
This hasn’t been an issue yet, but in summertime I will be very careful about using sunscreen. Obviously that’s something everyone should be doing whether they’re treating KP or not, but it’s ESPECIALLY important if you’re using AHAs or retinoids. There’s no point in fixing up your keratosis pilaris if you just turn around and get mega sun damage.
So once again, the neck was saved! I haven’t had to get creative with scarves for ages now, and I am so delighted. Back to showing off my throat for the benefit of any hot non-sparkly vampires hanging around... and possibly werewolves if they look like Alcide... and DEFINITELY vampire-werewolf hybrids like Klaus. Really, the hot paranormal choices are endless.