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Keratosis pilaris—for many, is one of those weird, unexplained circumstances of being human. Some may never experience it, but if you have, you’ll know how the condition’s unwanted texture and redness can affect your confidence come a spaghetti-strapped summer. For the what’s and the why’s of this skin condition—and the product recommendations to help—we called on MECCA skincare education manager, Lucy Shaw.
Informally known as ‘chicken skin’ (a name we don’t particularly love), keratosis pilaris is a common and totally harmless skin condition that can affect anyone, regardless of their age or skin type (although it’s most common in those under 30). It makes itself known through tiny bumps, rough patches, and sometimes redness on the skin, often on the upper arms, thighs, or bottom. Technically it can’t be ‘cured’ or prevented, but can it be managed and even grown out of.
Shaw describes the cause of keratosis pilaris as “basically a build-up of dead, sticky keratin cells that collects within the hair follicle due to the tiny and transparent hairs struggling to guide everything out onto the skin.” This then causes a blockage, she says (the bump), and in some cases, this blockage can also cause irritation (the redness).
The drier your skin, the more severe your keratosis pilaris can appear, which explains winter flare-ups, or improvement on a tropical-tempered holiday.
Regular exfoliation is your best friend when it comes to preventing blockages and subsequent texture. “Try using a body brush or exfoliating peel with some hard-working acids, and keep the skin nice and soft by moisturising daily,” recommends Shaw, who says either physical or chemical exfoliation is fine. However, “if your skin is showing up any redness alongside the keratosis pilaris, it’s best to go with a chemical or enzymatic exfoliant that won’t exacerbate the issue.”
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“My absolute go-to is the Dr. Dennis Gross Alpha Beta Exfoliating Body Treatment,” says Shaw, who was admittedly quick to fall in love with the new body variant of the MECCA-coveted peel pads. “This product not only deeply exfoliates and takes care of the cause of these blockages (the dead skin cells) but also has a number of skin nourishing ingredients that will also soften and moisturise.” It also has bakuchiol (a plant-derived retinol alternative) which the skincare expert considers to be “a master ingredient for brightening and refining the overall appearance of your skin, particularly if you have any scars or marks left over from picking.”
“I know it’s super tempting,” says Shaw, “but try not to pick as this will cause extra unnecessary stress to the skin which may result in scars and marks that can be even harder to get rid of.”
If you find a physical scrub more satisfying, try Soap & Glory’s The Scrub Of Your Life—it went viral in late 2019 for its keratosis pilaris-clearing powers when TikTok user @missbriiiice declared it the only thing to actually clear her skin following dermatologist appointments, prescription ointments and medication, and expensive over-the-counter creams.
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“Try supplementing some essential fatty acids (3 and 6) into your diet to help improve the quality of oil that your skin is producing. This will help to ensure it flows out onto the skin and doesn’t get stuck on the way.”
Shop our favourite peels, scrubs, cleansers, serums, and creams for keratosis pilaris below.
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