Some people grow up with a constant or reappearing rash on the skin that looks like goosebumps, but do not know what the condition is or where it came from. The condition does not pose a problem for most, but the appearance of blotchy skin that feels like goosebumps may cause a cosmetic concern for some, while others may find the condition mildly irritable. There is a name for the unfavorable and frequent visitor: keratosis pilaris.
Keratosis pilaris is a skin condition that causes a rash on the skin, creating an appearance on the skin that looks like plucked chicken flesh or goosebumps. The outbreak can appear anywhere on the body, but the upper arms, shoulders, thighs and back are the most common areas affected by the rash.
The American Dermatology Association notes that up to 40 percent people develop keratosis pilaris. Dry skin is thought to be the underlying problem. Dry skin can occur for many reasons, but with keratosis pilaris, a buildup of keratin creates plugs in the hair follicles. The enlarged hair follicles give the skin the appearance of goosebumps.
The condition of keratosis pilaris produces blotchy patches on the skin that look like small flesh-colored or pink bumps. At first glance, the rash may appear as small pimples or developing acne. The skin may feel rough to the touch and occasionally itch, but any itchiness is typically due to the irritation of dry skin. Certain fabrics or clothing may rub up against the affected area and cause redness and irritation. Usually, the rash is inconspicuous and unnoticeable unless you're inspecting the skin up close.
The rash may come and go, especially in response to environmental or seasonal changes. A study published in the June 2004 edition of the "British Medical Journal" found that 80 percent of the participants who had keratosis pilaris experienced seasonal variations with the severity of symptoms. Interestingly, though, the troublesome season is different for different people: of those who had seasonal variations, about half experienced worse symptoms in summer and about half experienced worse symptoms in summer.
The intensity and recurrence of the rash usually improves with age, with or without medical intervention. If patients desire treatment, topical applications that contain a strong concentration of urea or lactic acid can help improve conditions of the rash. Dr. Alan Fleischer, a professor of dermatology at the Wake Forest University School of Medicine, advises the use of AmLactin—an over-the-counter moisturizer that contains urea and lactic acid—for managing keratosis pilaris. Urea, like lactic acid, is a natural moisturizer that breaks down the tough, dry layer of the epidermis so skin regenerates. When used with corticosteroids, urea can assist with the penetration of corticosteroids and other topical applications prescribed by a doctor if needed.
A serious medical condition could also be the cause of a rash that looks like goosebumps. A report published in the 1960s in the "Indian Journal of Dermatology" noted that a patient who appears to have the condition of keratosis pilaris may factually have an allergic reaction to penicillin. Other conditions, such as an allergic reaction to skin care products, poison ivy or other environmental factors may cause a skin reaction that causes small areas on the skin that look like goosebumps.