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Heather Hanks
Written by Heather Hanks

Reviewed by Physician Kelvin Goh and Dr Eki Wari on January 30, 2023

Top Keratosis Pilaris Treatments To Soothe Chicken Skin

Despite some similarities, there are a few key differences between keratosis pilaris and eczema. Learn what's causing your "chicken skin" and how to treat it here.

Keratosis pilaris min scaled

Keratosis pilaris is a condition that causes small red and white bumps to appear on the skin. It’s common in people under 30 and usually does not itch or burn.

However, the condition can make your skin look like “chicken skin.” This can be hard to treat and embarrassing to deal with.

Read on to learn more about what keratosis pilaris is, what causes it, and how to treat it using natural remedies that are gentle and effective.

What Is Keratosis Pilaris?

A close-up of keratosis pilaris on the back of a man's arm
Some people say keratosis pilaris looks like plucked chicken skin or goosebumps.

Keratosis pilaris is a common skin condition that is characterized by small, rough bumps on the skin, usually on the arms, thighs, and buttocks.

The bumps resemble goosebumps or the skin of a plucked chicken. This is how the condition gets its nickname of “chicken skin.” They can also look like small pimples.

The bumps are usually harmless and do not itch or burn. They typically feel rough to the touch and are made of plugs of dead skin cells.

What Causes Keratosis Pilaris?

Keratosis pilaris is caused by the overproduction of keratin. This can block the hair follicles and lead to the formation of bumps. 

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) classifies the condition as Ji Fu Jia Cuo, meaning rough, dry, scaly, and red or brown bumps. It can be due to Lung Yin Deficiency and Blood Deficiency with Wind Dryness.

“In TCM, the treatment of skin conditions is typically based on identifying and addressing the underlying imbalance that is causing the symptoms.”

TCM Physician Kelvin Goh.

Lung Yin Deficiency

“In TCM, the Lungs are in charge of the skin. TCM considers the opening and closing of skin pores to be the Lung’s responsibility. When the Lungs are not functioning well, the pores trap elements that cause skin conditions,” explained Physician Goh.

“Lung energy moistures our skin, too. Having a Deficiency in Lung Yin energy especially further depletes the moisture level in our skin as yin energy represents water and liquid in our body,” he continued.

“With a reduced level of Lung Yin in our body, it dries up our skin easily and slows the skin metabolism level. Therefore, it is vital to have good Lung energy,” stated Physician Goh.

Blood Deficiency with Wind Dryness

“Blood Deficiency leads to a heaty body type as there is a lack of blood to nourish and cool down the body. Look at Blood Yin as a liquid to keep our body in good distribution of Heat and to cool it down.”

TCM Physician Kelvin Goh.    

A lack of Blood will lead to the generation of Wind pathogens in the body. Wind pathogens normally invade the skin. TCM believes that Wind pathogens are the first and foremost factor of various diseases.

Wind Pathogens tend to combine with other factors, like in this case, causing Wind-Dryness. The Wind-Dryness pathogen will cause the skin to be dry and scaly. 

Keratosis Pilaris vs. Eczema: What’s The Difference?

Eczema is a term used to describe a group of inflammatory skin conditions that cause red, itchy, and inflamed skin. It is often triggered by environmental factors, such as dry skin, irritants, or allergies. However, it can also be accompanied by other symptoms, such as dryness, redness, itching, and flakiness. 

“According to TCM, keratosis pilaris and eczema are not necessarily treated differently. Both conditions may be classified as skin disorders that involve inflammation and excess keratin production,” stated Physician Goh.

Use this chart to help you tell the difference between keratosis pilaris and eczema:

 Eczema Keratosis Pilaris
Painful  Yes No  
Itchy YesNo
Appearance Raw wound-looking, patchy  Goose-bump like 
Color Mostly pinkish and red Can appear in red, white, and brown 
Location  Elbows or knees, the nape of the neck, face, hands, upper arms, back, wrists, fingers, feet, and toes Arms, legs, cheeks, or buttocks 
Affected Age Group All ages  Young people 
This chart can help you identify whether you have keratosis pilaris or eczema based on your symptoms.

“In TCM, the treatment of both keratosis pilaris and eczema may involve the use of herbal remedies, acupuncture, and dietary changes to address the underlying imbalance and reduce inflammation. It is important to note that TCM is a holistic approach to healthcare and treatment will be tailored to the individual based on their specific symptoms and underlying imbalances,” stated Physician Goh.

How To Use TCM To Treat Keratosis Pilaris

TCM can help alleviate symptoms through a variety of treatment modalities, including: 

Acupuncture

Acupuncture can help stimulate the circulation of Qi (energy) and Blood, which can help improve the overall functioning and balancing of the skin’s Yin and Yang.

Acupoints that may be helpful include: 

  • Qu Chi (LI11): This is the main point for diseases of the head, face, and the five sense organs. It helps relieve itching. The objective is to treat diseases of skin pruritus. 
  • Xue Hai (SP10): This helps reduce pain and alleviate red, itchy, and inflamed skin. 
  • Tai Chong (LR3): This helps boost immunity and improve circulation. It also calms the nervous system, which may help to reduce insomnia, balance emotions, and alleviate stress and anxiety. 

Cupping and bloodletting

“Be it cupping or bloodletting, the mechanism behind them is to destroy and rebuild the skin environment around the affected areas. For example, after cupping is performed, red spots and marks are formed. These marks are due to the breaking of capillaries under the skin, which causes internal bleeding. This bleeding will be helpful to regenerate new blood around the areas, and therefore, promote a better skin environment,” stated Physician Goh.

Herbal remedies

TCM practitioners may prescribe herbal formulas to nourish and moisturize the skin, as well as to increase Yin in the body and reduce Heatiness.

Herbal remedies and herbs that may be helpful include: 

  • Panax Quinquefolius (American ginseng): Cooling in nature and helps to improve the Lung’s qi. Hence, it will help improve skin texture based on TCM’s theory on the Lungs and skin. 
  • Astragalus root (Huang Qi): Helps tonify the Blood and improves blood circulation to heal skin.  
  • Radix Ophiopogonis (Mai Dong): This herb belongs to the ‘Tonic herbs for Yin Deficiency’ category. Mai Dong is cool in nature. It helps clear Heat in the body and improves Lung function by moistening the Lungs. 

Diet and nutrition

TCM practitioners may recommend dietary modifications to help improve the health of the skin, such as increasing the intake of nourishing and moistening foods, and reducing the intake of drying (Heaty) and irritating (flared up) foods. Physician Goh recommends that you try to avoid the food below:

  • Refined Food: Sugar, cakes, bread, cookies, ice cream, and chocolate 
  • Meat: Beef and lamb 
  • Seafood: Prawn, crab, and shellfish  
  • Dairy: Milk, cheese, and cream 
  • Spices: Ginger, garlic, and pepper 

Tips For Managing Keratosis Pilaris

A woman in a robe looking at the ingredients on the back of her natural skincare products
Look for skincare products that contain natural ingredients and are free of irritants.

TCM practitioners may recommend lifestyle changes to help improve the health of the skin, such as reducing stress, getting enough sleep, and practicing proper skin care

Here are some tips Physician Goh recommends:

  • Moisturize regularly. Keeping the skin well-moisturized can help reduce the appearance of bumps and roughness. Look for a moisturizer that contains urea, lactic acid, or alpha-hydroxy acid, which can help soften and exfoliate the skin. 
  • Use gentle skincare products. Avoid using harsh soaps or cleansers that can strip the skin of its natural oils. Instead, opt for gentle, fragrance-free products that won’t irritate the skin. 
  • Exfoliate gently. Gently exfoliating the skin can help remove dead skin cells and unclog pores. Avoid using harsh, abrasive scrubs, and instead, opt for a gentle exfoliator or a loofah or sponge to gently slough off dead skin cells. 
  • Avoid hot showers. Hot water can strip the skin of its natural oils, which can exacerbate dryness and irritation. Try taking lukewarm showers instead. 
  • Protect your skin from the sun. Sun exposure can dry out the skin and worsen keratosis pilaris. Be sure to use a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher to protect your skin from harmful UV rays. 
  • Stay hydrated. Drinking plenty of water can help keep your skin hydrated and healthy. Aim to drink at least 8-8 ounces of water per day. 
  • Avoid tight clothing. Tight clothing can irritate the skin and worsen keratosis pilaris. Wear loose, comfortable clothing to allow your skin to breathe. 
  • Use humidifiers. Dry air can worsen keratosis pilaris, so using a humidifier can help keep your skin moisturized. 
  • Avoid picking at the bumps. Picking at the bumps can cause irritation and inflammation, which can worsen the condition. Try to resist the temptation to pick at the bumps and let them heal on their own. 

Do you suffer from chicken skin? If so, share with us how you manage the condition in the comments below.

References

  1. American Academy of Dermatology Association. Keratosis Pilaris: Overview.

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Reviews (1)

May 30 2023

Very useful advice. Educational and informative.

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