Even if they don't itch or hurt, mysterious red bumps on your skin can be worrisome. Because red bumps can appear on your upper legs for a variety of reasons, though, it's important to determine the cause before you attempt to treat them. Depending on the cause of your bumps, you may be able to eliminate or reduce them with an appropriate at-home skin care routine. More serious cases may require help from a health care professional.
Folliculitis, or inflamed hair follicles, can occur due to improper shaving, infection or irritation from clothing. This condition causes red, acne-like bumps, typically with a hair in the center. Keratosis pilaris occurs when skin cells build up for unknown reasons. The result is many small skin bumps, similar to pimples or goose bumps, which may turn red when inflamed. Dry skin is also common with this condition. Cholinergic urticaria causes itchy hives after exercise, sweating or exposure to heat or hot water. These hives may be as small as mosquito bites, but may also appear as large welts.
To treat folliculitis, keep your upper legs clean and dry and away from irritating material like wool. Every day, wash your upper legs with a cleanser containing benzoyl peroxide and dust on a medicated powder, recommends dermatologist Dr. John L. Meisenheimer. If you suspect a mild infection, apply an antiseptic lotion. Avoid shaving for at least four weeks. If your folliculitis is chronic, or on-going, however, you may need to stop for shaving for three months. For keratosis pilaris, applying a moisturizer can soothe and soften your skin and an over-the-counter cream containing lactic acid may help break down excess keratin. A non-prescription antihistamine may help you treat hives from cholinergic urticaria, suggest experts from San Francisco State University.
Infection-related folliculitis may require a 4- to 6-week course of antibiotics. While keratosis pilaris is harmless, doesn't require treatment and may resolve on its own, your health care provider may recommend creams containing glycolic acid, salicylic acid or vitamin D. Managing cholinergic urticaria may require prescription antihistamines, but appropriate care depends on your individual situation.
To prevent a recurrence of folliculitis due to skin irritation, avoid Lycra sportswear and rough material like denim and wool, advise skin care experts from the American Osteopathic College of Dermatology. Shave in the direction your hair grows to avoid irritating the follicles. Keratosis pilaris appears to be at least partly genetic, so preventing it may not be possible. You may be able to prevent outbreaks of cholinergic urticaria by avoiding triggers like heat and sweating. If avoiding triggers keeps you from living a normal life, your health care provider may be able to suggest alternatives.
Folliculitis from bacterial infections is mildly contagious, so avoid allowing affected skin to contact anyone else's bare skin until your infection has passed. Cholinergic urticaria is usually harmless, but get help immediately if you feel faint or have trouble breathing or swallowing. These are signs of a potentially life-threatening allergic reaction. Consult your health care provider if the red bumps on your upper legs cause severe itching, pain or broken skin, or if your symptoms don't improve with at-home care.